July 5, 2012--Water-health warriers (Montrose Press)

It may not appear as though Montrose and the Uncompahgre Valley are in the middle of a war. But a battle is being waged, and the prize is healthy waterways. The enemy is selenium. The trace element that occurs naturally in the area’s Mancos shale poses little to no threat to humans. When water is applied to the soil, it leaches the selenium into the ground water (deep percolation), and the element washes into the river. Selenium is harmful to fish — including endangered species found in the region’s rivers — and waterfowl. A high enough selenium concentration in the water, and you’ve got strong potential for deformities in the larval and egg stages. The feds don’t care much for that. The Montrose region has a choice: It can proactively deal with the problem of excess selenium loading or risk federal intervention that could include reducing water to area canals. “I think a lot of people are afraid they might shut off the water to agriculture to provide in-stream flow for the fish if the selenium concentration gets too high,” said Sonja Chavez de Baca, coordinator for the Gunnison Basin Selenium Task Force.

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