Colorado River

Cara Pallone

Despite its iconic stature, the plight of the native Colorado River cutthroat trout has been both challenging and uncertain. Cara Pallone, with KOTO Community Radio and Western Slope Resources Reporting, shares this story about an ongoing restoration project at an alpine lake near Telluride.

In 2007, years into a record-breaking drought throughout the southwestern U.S., officials along the Colorado River finally came to an agreement on how they’d deal with future water shortages -- and then quietly hoped that wet weather would return.

But it didn’t.

Colorado River District


With increasing demand on the Colorado River, water managers are considering the looming possibility of a compact call. This would require the upper basin to assure, by any means necessary, the delivery of 7.5 million acre feet of water to the lower basin states. Last week, the Colorado River District hosted an online webinar to assure the West Slope that such a scenario would most likely take years to unfold. Here, general manager Andy Mueller discusses what’s being done. For Andy Mueller's discussion of the changing conditions on the Colorado River and the potential for adaptation, follow the headline. For the full webinar, click here. The Colorado River District’s annual seminar is on Friday, September 14, in Grand Junction. Tickets and a detailed agenda are here.

Colorado is called “the mother of  rivers” for a reason: it’s one of the most popular states for river rafting in the country.  But like the rest of our region, unprecedented growth, a changing climate, drought, and wildfires are taking their toll on this multi-million-dollar industry.

Between growing populations and changing climate conditions, our water sources are only expected to get more crunched. Communities in some very dry states have had to get creative about where to get their water, sometimes purifying sewage into drinking water. More western cities are beginning to get on board, too. But there’s a problem: the ick factor.

Jose Alvarez, a supervisor at R. H. Dupper Landscaping, stood up from changing a sprinkler nozzle on a large grassy field at a homeowner’s association in Chandler, Arizona. He surveyed the turf, a patchwork of green and brown.

In The Desert City Of Tucson, The Grass Is Not Greener

Jul 25, 2018

Tucson, Arizona used to be a city of lawns. Patches of Bermuda grass lined residential neighborhoods, kept green — even in blazing summer months — with diligent watering. Over the decades, that has changed. Tucsonans eschew lush lawns for landscaping that is more in tune with the city's desert setting — though that doesn't necessarily mean there's no green.

Throughout the Western U.S., water conservation is in the toilet.

And that’s a good thing.


Brooks Kelly stopped at a display of smart sprinkler-system controllers.

"This 6-station timer — it's got a rebate," said Kelly, who works the plumbing aisle at the St. George Home Depot. "You buy it [and the] Washington County water district gives a $99 credit to your water bill. So, this is free."

Fear can be a powerful motivator.

The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado River is enough to make some water managers in the West break into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening — its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest battling over scarce water supplies.

Colorado River Basin Watches As Arizona Reboots Drought Talks

Jun 21, 2018

Water leaders in Arizona are again trying to get to “yes” on a deal that deals with drought. This would help prepare the state for future cuts to its water supply if -- and likely when -- Lake Mead drops below specific levels. A renewed effort to achieve an agreement comes after a year of anxiety and gridlock over the future of the Colorado River.

Reservoirs that store water along the Colorado River are projected to be less than half full later this year, potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.

Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the river’s reservoirs -- Lakes Mead and Powell among them -- to be at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September. That would be one of the lowest points ever for the combined water storage.

It’s early in the morning and Juli Scamardo is in chest waders, guiding me through a beaver meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“These are like mazes,” she says. “It’s hard to get through a meadow and know where you’re going.”

The effects of climate change are already being felt at the headwaters of the West’s most important river system, according to a study released earlier this year.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization compiled the latest science on climate change in the Colorado River headwaters in a report titled Climate Change in the Headwater: Water and Snow Impacts (PDF), presented to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments in February.

2018 wasn't the worst winter on record for the southern Rocky Mountain region, but it was close to it.

“It was an extreme year on the dry side, widespread across the Colorado River Basin,” says Greg Smith, a hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) in Salt Lake City.

After nearly a month of terse exchanges among water managers in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona about Colorado River conservation strategies, representatives from the five states met Monday in Salt Lake City to hash out their differences.

At issue is how the Central Arizona Project (CAP) -- the operator of a 336-mile aqueduct that pumps Colorado River water to farmers and cities -- is conserving water in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir. The project is managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD) and is the state’s largest water provider.

A quiet, rising tension over water in the southwest has burst into the public square.

Agencies that manage and dole out the Colorado River’s water in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico are attempting to publicly shame an increasingly isolated water agency in Arizona. The feud has the potential to either upset, or reignite, negotiations over the river’s future.

The managers of the Central Arizona Project are being accused of gaming the system to draw more water out of the Colorado River instead of conserving as much as possible. The action threatens the trust and cooperation that has existed along the river and has Upper Basin leaders crying foul. H2O Radio Reports.

Wikipedia Commons

Snowpack that feeds the Colorado River is at record lows as we begin moving into the longer and drier days of summer. Water managers throughout the West are already sounding the alarm about less water flowing in streams and reservoirs. But as Luke Runyon reports, there’s another factor that could make things even worse...

The Colorado River Basin is likely to see one of its driest spring runoff seasons on record this year, according to federal forecasters.

Scientists at the Salt Lake City-based Colorado Basin River Forecast Center say current snowpack conditions are set to yield the sixth-lowest recorded runoff into Lake Powell since the lake was filled more than 50 years ago.

KUNC

The biggest lake in California is shrinking. KUNC's Luke Runyon reports.

The Colorado River's First Dam Transformed The Desert Southwest

Feb 22, 2018
Bret Jaspers/KJZZ

We’re all familiar with the Hoover Dam. And you might know about Glen Canyon or other dams that manage the Colorado River. But the very first dam on the Colorado was the Laguna Dam. It diverted water to farm fields in Arizona’s Yuma Valley. Bret Jaspers from KJZZ in Phoenix has more on how the Laguna Dam set the table for large-scale farming in the southwest.

In 2014, the Colorado River did something it hadn’t done in decades. For a few short weeks that spring, the overdrawn, overallocated river reached the Pacific Ocean.

Instead of diverting the river’s last bit of water toward farm fields, the final dam on the Colorado River at the Mexican border lifted, and water inundated nearly 100 miles of the dry riverbed. It was called the pulse flow, meant to mimic a spring flood.


Sonoran Institute

Last year, the Sonoran Institute and Lincoln Institute of Land Policy launched a new program to address the lack of integration between land use planning and water management within the Colorado River basin. KDNK’s Raleigh Burleigh spoke with Jeremy Stapleton, program director for Resilient Communities and Watersheds to learn more.

The Shoshone Hydroelectric Power Plant, just east of Glenwood Springs along the Colorado River, was built in 1905. It generates 15 megawatts of power and is a popular rafting spot in the summer. It also holds the state’s oldest water right on the river. For this edition of Sounds of the High Country, KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh talks to Emily Benson, editorial fellow at High Country News, about the impact of this single water right. Here's her story: The Tiny Power Plant That Shapes the Colorado River.

Wild Rose Education

The Andy Zanca Youth News Team reports on local water issues from the 2017 Youth Water Summit, presented by Wild Rose Education and Pitkin County Healthy Rivers and Streams Board.

Photo by Brent Gardner-Smith/Aspen Journalism


The state of Colorado has called for dismissal of a lawsuit that would grant the Colorado River ecosystem legal rights in court. For this week’s News Brief, KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh talks with Brent Gardner-Smith, editor of Aspen Journalism, about the case. Click here to read the story.

Sixth grade students from Glenwood Springs Middle School wrote public service announcements encouraging KDNK listeners to protect the rivers.

Sixth grade students from Glenwood Springs Middle School wrote public service announcements encouraging KDNK listeners to protect the rivers.