Wetlands

, Volume 33, Issue 5, pp 799–810 | Cite as

The Creation and Maintenance of Wetland Ecosystems from Irrigation Canal and Reservoir Seepage in a Semi-Arid Landscape

  • Jeremy P. Sueltenfuss
  • David J. Cooper
  • Richard L. Knight
  • Reagan M. Waskom
Article

Abstract

Irrigation has increased agricultural productivity in the arid American West, and has greatly altered the natural landscape. This study sought to identify the hydrologic processes linking irrigation canals and reservoirs to wetlands. We mapped wetlands within an irrigation company service area in northern Colorado, measured groundwater levels, and used stable oxygen isotopes to identify groundwater sources. We related vegetation composition in study wetlands to environmental variables to identify the types of wetlands supported by leakage from irrigation conveyance and storage structures. Ninety-two percent of wetlands were visually connected to the irrigation infrastructure. Wetland water tables varied with adjacent canal flow, and isotopic data indicated that wetlands within the study area were recharged solely by canal leakage. Wetland vegetation composition was related to both soil salinity and groundwater depth. Salt flats formed in areas with high salinity, marsh communities in areas with low salinity and higher standing water, and meadow communities in areas with low salinity and water tables near the ground surface. Though land conversion and water diversions have led to dramatic reductions in historic wetland area in some places, it is clear from our study that current agricultural landscapes create wetlands that rely on irrigation water.

Keywords

Irrigation Canal seepage Wetlands 

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Copyright information

© Society of Wetland Scientists 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy P. Sueltenfuss
    • 1
  • David J. Cooper
    • 2
  • Richard L. Knight
    • 3
  • Reagan M. Waskom
    • 4
  1. 1.Colorado Natural Heritage ProgramColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  2. 2.Department of Forest and Rangeland Stewardship and Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  3. 3.Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources and Graduate Degree Program in EcologyColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA
  4. 4.Colorado Water InstituteColorado State UniversityFort CollinsUSA

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