Colorado River

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, MEXICO — From inside a small airplane, tracing the Colorado River along the Arizona-California border, it’s easy to see how it happened.

As the river bends and weaves through the American Southwest, its contents are slowly drained. Concrete canals send water to millions of people in Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego. Farms, ribbons of green contrasted against the desert’s shades of brown, line the waterway.

High snowpack in the southern Rocky Mountains this winter will likely stave off a shortage declaration in the Colorado River watershed in 2020, relieving pressure on water managers attempting to navigate future scarcity.

New data from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation models show a lessened risk of a key Colorado River reservoir dropping far enough to trigger a first-ever shortage declaration. Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin is at 138 percent of the long-term median, a level not seen in mid-March since 1997.

Exhibit Near Moab Recalls Glen Canyon Before the Dam

Mar 18, 2019
Molly Marcello

For 55 years, legendary Colorado River runner Ken Sleight has thought about the sacred sites that were submerged in Glen Canyon when it was dammed. An art exhibit showing in Green River, Utah is helping keep the memories alive.
 

AspenJournalism.org

The Colorado River Water Conservation District is facing some funding problems but hopes a recent successful effort by Colorado Mountain College to free up tax money will also benefit them. To dive deeper into a slightly murky issue, Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism joins Mark Duggan for this week's KDNK News Brief.

States that rely on the Colorado River for their water supplies are currently unable to finish a series of agreements that would keep its biggest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, from dropping to levels not seen since they were filled decades ago.

Five states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nevada — are done. The country of Mexico has also completed its portion. But California and Arizona failed to meet a Jan. 31 federal government deadline to wrap up negotiations and sign a final agreement.

The seven states that rely on the Colorado River are trying to finalize details on how use less of its water. Currently all eyes are on Arizona, which has a had a tough time agreeing how to dole out cuts to water supplies.

On the first day of the legislative session, water led Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's State of the State address. More specifically, he wants a drought plan finished — one that keeps the Colorado River system at healthy levels.

Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water.

That’s according to an analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.

The briefing relies on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Natural Resources Conservation Service among others.

Jim Hill/KUNC

Reporter Luke Runyon covers the Colorado River - from its headwaters in Rocky Mountain National Park, to its path past the towering walls of Glenwood Canyon, to the Grand Canyon, and to the Colorado River Delta in Mexico. Last year, he covered a lot of water policy meetings, read a lot of data, and even met a "water sheriff." KDNK's Mark Duggan spoke with Runyon recently about some of the more memorable stories he covered in 2018 and what's on his radar for 2019. Among the first issues he'll explore is renewed attempts at cloud seeding to create more reliable rain and snow.

Sixth grade students at Glenwood Springs Middle School learned about the Colorado River watershed and want you to protect our river. 

On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the Colorado River is like losing a loved one.

"It reminds me of the seven stages of grief," Moses said. "Because I think we've been in denial for a long time."

Moses is vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near Parker, Arizona. He was speaking at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association meeting.

LAS VEGAS -- Water leaders throughout the West now have a hard deadline to finish deals that would keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from dropping to deadpool levels.

The nation’s top water official is giving leaders of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River until January 31, 2019 to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan. The combination of multi-state agreements would change how reservoirs are operated and force earlier water cutbacks within the river’s lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as reservoirs drop.

Early season snowfall in some parts of the Colorado River Basin have raised hopes of a drought recovery. But that optimism is likely premature.

In Colorado, higher than average snowfall in October and early November has allowed ski resorts to open early after a dismal start to last year’s season.

Brent Gardner-Smith


Glenwood Springs is one step closer to building three whitewater recreation parks on the Colorado River. The City began working on the project in 2013. Challenges include new water rights and appeasing the opposition. Brent Gardner-Smith of Aspen Journalism has been following the story and joins KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh for this week’s News Brief.

Colorado River water managers have plenty to argue about. But there’s one thing on which nearly everyone who relies on the southwestern river can agree. The foundational document that divvies up the water -- the Colorado River Compact -- has some big flaws.

Discussion on how to fix the compact’s problems is where that consensus breaks down, often with the invocation of one word: renegotiation.

The temperature is hovering right around 90 degrees the day Dale Ryden and I float down the Colorado River near Grand Junction, Colorado. The water looks so inviting, a cool reprieve from the heat, but if either of us jumped in we’d be electrocuted.

“It can actually probably be lethal to people if you get in there,” Ryden, a fish biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, says.

Christopher Biddle

Water Managers in the Southwest United States are witnessing record levels of reservoir depletion, and Colorado’s Western Slope is feeling the stretch, especially in the agricultural sector. As KBUT’s Christopher Biddle reports, one group thinks others should share the burden.

Water managers along the Colorado River are trying to figure out how to live with less.

Climate change is growing the gap between the river’s supply, and the demands in the communities that rely on it, including seven western U.S. states and Mexico. The federal government recently released proposals called Drought Contingency Plans designed to keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from falling to levels where water is unable to be sent through the dams that hold up Lakes Powell and Mead.

Key reservoirs along the Colorado River are collectively at their lowest point at the start of a new water year since the last one filled nearly 40 years ago.

One Sunday morning several years ago Dave Huhn got a call. He’s usually off work that day, but it was the height of irrigation season and decided to answer. The woman on the other end was frantic, screaming as she watched her 82-year-old husband from the window.

Their 86-year-old neighbor was beating him with a shovel.

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.

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