Drought

Seven years ago, a pulse of water on the Colorado River at the U.S.-Mexico border temporarily reconnected it to the Pacific Ocean. Scientists used the so-called “pulse flow” to study what plant and animal life returned to the desiccated delta along with water.

Armed with that knowledge, scientists and conservation groups are trying a new and more targeted strategy to bring water back to the final 100 miles of the Colorado River this year.

The water levels behind the Colorado River’s biggest dams are fast-approaching or already at record lows. The historic 21-year megadrought that is squeezing some Western states’ water supplies will also likely start showing up in energy bills, because those dams can’t produce as much electricity.

A question has bothered climatologist Park Williams during the decade he’s been probing drought in the Southwest. Like other climate scientists, he knew from research papers and worldwide storm patterns that a warming atmosphere is thirstier and sops up more moisture from oceans and the land.

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Extreme Drought = Increased Wildfire Risk

Jun 14, 2021
Wildfire smoke in Colorado

This is the 22nd consecutive year of drought in the Colorado River Basin. And, with extreme drought conditions comes increased risk of wildfires. From KSJD in Southwest Colorado, public health reporter Tay Glass explores the dangers of wildfire smoke and ways to mitigate its negative health effects.

What About the Drought, Sen. Hickenlooper?

May 22, 2021

Colorado Senator John Hickenlooper was in southwest Colorado earlier this month. The visit comes as the region is experiencing extreme drought, with no end in sight. KSJD's Lucas Brady Woods sat down with the Senator to discuss what's being done at the federal level.

Greg Peterson Shares His Permaculture Journey

Mar 24, 2021
courtesy photo

Phoenix-based permaculturalist Greg Peterson compares notes from his urban one-third acre with host Jerome Osentowski at the Central Rocky Mountain Permaculture Institute. Greg also hosts a podcast.

Bill Kight

This month on For Land's Sake, host Bill Kight updates listeners on the State of the Rockies, an annual report from Colorado College. He also talks about the CORE Act, increased ATV usage, and takes calls from listeners.

A new study in the journal Science says that human-driven climate change is pushing the American West into a megadrought, and into its driest period in more than 400 years.

 


A warming climate is already causing river flows in the Southwest’s largest watershed to decline, according to a new study from federal scientists. And it finds that as warming continues it’s likely to get worse. 

Every time thick, dark rain clouds move over the deserts that surround Las Vegas, there's an anticipatory buzz. Flora and fauna alike begin preparing for the rare event, lying in wait for the first few drops.

Todd Esque is usually waiting for them too from his office in Henderson, Nevada. He knows how much desert life depends on their arrival. So when they do come, he's smiling.

With short-term drought plans finished, water managers from across the Southwest recently gathered in Las Vegas to figure out what's next.

The Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference brings together nearly every municipal water agency, irrigation district, Native American tribe and environmental group that relies on the Colorado River.

The West’s water security is wrapped up in snow. When it melts, it becomes drinking and irrigation water for millions throughout the region. A high snowpack lets farmers, skiers and water managers breathe a sigh of relief, while a low one can spell long-term trouble.

Students from Aspen to New Castle gathered at Third Street Center for the Third Annual Healthy Rivers Youth Water Summit. KDNKs Amy Hadden Marsh and Lucas Turner were at the event, and have the details.

Earlier this year, Arizona -- one of seven southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River -- was in the midst of a heated discussion about water.

“It’s time to protect Lake Mead and Arizona,” the state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said in his state of the state address in January 2019. He spoke to lawmakers in the midst of uncomfortable, emotional discussions at the statehouse in Phoenix about who gets access to water in the arid West, and who doesn’t. 

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.

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