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Upper Gunnison River Watershed-Assessment of Historical and Current (1999) Water-Quality Conditions


Upper Gunnison River Watershed-Assessment of Historical and Current (1999) Water-Quality Conditions

Study Area: Upper Gunnison Water River Watershed
Period of Project: 1999-2002
Project Number: CO325
Project Chief: Norm Spahr
Cooperator: City of Gunnison, Colorado River Water Conservation District, Crested Butte South Metropolitan District, Gunnison County, Mount Crested Butte Water and Sanitation District, National Park Service, Town of Crested Butte, and Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District


In 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) established a water-quality monitoring program in the upper Gunnison River Basin in Colorado as part of a local water-quality effort and as part of the Upper Colorado River Basin National Water-Quality Assessment (UCOL NAWQA) Program. The monitoring program was established to characterize existing water quality and to assess effects of increasing urbanization/recreation on water quality and aquatic life. As a result of this effort and the water-quality concerns identified in the basin, local entities have expressed a need for a compilation and analysis of existing water-resources data and studies, as well as the coordination of further water-resources monitoring in the upper Gunnison River Basin.

  • The population in Gunnison County has increased by approximately 200 percent between 1970 and 1990.
  • Urban growth in the area and the associated recreational uses could result in reduced well capacities and contamination of the ground water and surface water.
  • Metal mining upstream from Crested Butte and Lake City also could affect stream quality and stream biota.

To make informed land-use decisions, local entities need up-to-date information on the historical and current (1999) status of water quantity, water quality, stream biota, and land use in the upper Gunnison River Basin.

To provide this up-to-date information, a retrospective analysis is needed to establish a historical perspective on the quality of the water resources, to assess the strengths and weaknesses of available information, and to evaluate the implications for water-quality management and future water-quality sampling networks and data analysis.


  1. To characterize existing water-resources and stream-biota data for the upper Gunnison River Basin.
  2. To analyze historical data and assess the broad-scale geographic and seasonal distribution of current (1999) water-quality and stream-biota conditions of the upper Gunnison River Basin.
  3. To summarize the current knowledge of the environmental setting and identify, describe, and explain, where possible, the primary natural and human factors that affect observed water-quality conditions.
  4. To develop a water-quality and stream-biota data base.
  5. To redesign a water-quality sampling scheme to address water-quality and water-resource management concerns, based on the retrospective analysis.
  6. To implement a monitoring program to describe current water-quality and stream-biota conditions in the upper Gunnison River Basin.

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