Drought

The drive behind a massive water development project in southwestern Utah, the Lake Powell Pipeline, shows no signs of slowing even after the Colorado River Basin states signed a new agreement this spring that could potentially force more conservation or cutbacks.

One morning in mid-February, David Herz went to turn on the faucet in his farmhouse outside the small western Colorado town of Paonia, and nothing came out.

“I thought, ‘Oh, f---. We got a problem,’” Herz said.

Colorado River District Faces Fiscal Drought: Part 1

May 24, 2019
Amy Hadden Marsh/KDNK

The Colorado River Water Conservation District is a public agency that plans and creates water policy for the Colorado River Basin. Director Andy Mueller talked to KDNK recently about the district's work and why funding is drying up.

Snowpack in every part of Colorado’s high country is sporting layers of dust, according to a new statewide survey of the state’s winter accumulation.

“This is a low frequency dust season,” wrote Jeff Derry, head of the Colorado Dust on Snow Program, in a post about the survey results. “But may be a high consequence snowmelt season.”

Avery Ecological Design

In August of 2018, following months of intense drought in Colorado, water specialist Avery Ellis shared permaculture practices and strategies with Living Permaculture.

CIÉNEGA DE SANTA CLARA, MEXICO — Juan Butrón-Méndez navigates a small metal motorboat through a maze of tall reeds here in the Mexican state of Sonora. It’s nearing sunset, and the sky is turning shades of light blue and purple.

The air smells of wet earth, an unfamiliar scent in the desert.

LAGUNA GRANDE, BAJA CALIFORNIA, MEXICO — It’s mid-morning in the Sonoran desert and already the temperature is rising.

Karen Schlatter suggests we find some shade, a relatively easy task at Laguna Grande, a restoration site along the Colorado River’s historic channel in Mexico. It’s managed by the Sonoran Institute, where Schlatter is associate director of the binational environmental group’s Colorado River Delta program.

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.

Water is again flowing through faucets in the Western Slope town of Paonia.

Town administrator Ken Knight told residents at a meeting Tuesday evening enough water is being treated and kept in storage to return service to the more than 1,500 people who rely on the town for drinking water. Some residents have been without drinkable tap water for nearly two weeks after officials discovered leaks in water pipes.

When Paonia resident Jon Howard went turn on the dishwasher last Friday morning, there was no water to clean the dishes.

Same thing when he went to the bathroom, wanted to take a shower or fill up a glass from the kitchen sink.

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.

Each winter, anxious water managers, farmers and city leaders in the American Southwest turn their eyes toward the snowy peaks of the southern Rocky Mountains.

The piling snow is a massive frozen reservoir, and its depth and weight can foreshadow the year ahead. Millions of dollars are spent divining what a heavy or light snowpack means for the region's reservoirs, for its booming cities, for its arid farmland.

Mark Duggan

Biologist Bill Anderegg  studies how drought and climate change affect forest ecosystems, particularly that of aspen forests. KDNK's Mark Duggan spoke with him about his research and what he sees as the biggest threat to Colorado's beloved aspen forests.

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.

Connecting the Drops

The American West is grappling with a water crisis.  The Colorado River Basin system is over allocated, meaning more water is being drawn out of the river than is being naturally replenished.

The region has been in a drought for almost two decades with more hot, dry weather is in the long-term forecast.

Yet demand for water is growing. Colorado’s population could increase add another 3 million people by 2050. The bulk of that growth will happen along the Front Range.

This leaves water managers struggling to quench the thirst of their customers. As we explore in this next installment in our Connecting the Drops series, some urban water providers are looking for ways to do more with less.

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.

Beer and wine made from purified wastewater are offering the public exposure to a type of water reuse with the potential to reshape water consumption in Colorado.   As part of Connecting the Drops, Hannah Leigh Myers explores water reuse.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Toxic Algae Blooms in Blue Mesa Reservoir Near Gunnison

Sep 27, 2018
National Park Service

Blue-Green Algae blooms in parts of Blue Mesa Reservoir, 20 miles west of Gunnison, are producing unhealthy levels of cyanotoxins. KBUT’s Christopher Biddle has the story.

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.

Avery Ecological Design

Water specialist Avery Ellis shares permaculture practices and strategies for times of drought.

AH Marsh Photo

Drought is causing problems for Colorado anglers, ranchers, and recreationists. Brent Gardner-Smith, editor of Aspen Journalism, covered meetings in Glenwood Springs this month of water officials from around the state. Here he talks to KDNK’s Amy Hadden Marsh about impacts on Colorado industries and on Lake Powell.

Raleigh Burleigh

Residents of the Roaring Fork Valley witnessed a rising plume of smoke on Friday evening. KDNK’s Raleigh Burleigh reports on the Oak Meadows Fire and ongoing investigations into aerial fire suppression at night. This report includes comments from Ben Miller, director of the Center of Excellence for Advanced Technology Aerial Firefighting, and Latham Johnson, fuels program manager for the Upper Colorado River Interagency Fire and Aviation Unit, recorded during a media briefing in early June.

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.

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