Water

Finding a river in the West that still behaves like a Western river -- one that rises and falls with the annual rush of melting snow -- is tough. 

Many of the region’s major streams are controlled by dams. Their flows come at the push of a button. Instead of experiencing dynamic flows, dammed rivers are evened out. Floods are mitigated and managed, seen as a natural disaster rather than an ecological necessity. 

One hundred and fifty years ago, a group of explorers led by Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell set out to document the canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers. It was the first trip of its kind. To commemorate the journey, a group of scientists, artists and graduate students from the University of Wyoming called the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition has been retracing his steps this summer. 

Wells built to bring underground water supplies to the surface are being dug deeper to tap into dwindling aquifers, according to a new study.  

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.

Paul Hempel

Paul Hempel returns to Shifting Gears to explain the value of source water education in the introduction of the “keep it clean, cause were all downstream” program extending from Vail to Rifle to Aspen.

It's late May in Wyoming. It snowed last night, and more snow is predicted. That's why it's good that Big Piney Rancher Chad Espenscheid is behind the wheel of the truck. The roads are sloppy and Middle Piney Creek is running high.

Nara Bopp was working at a thrift store in Moab, Utah the morning of March 4 when her desk started moving. 

“I immediately assumed that it was a garbage truck,” Bopp said.

Groundwater pumping is causing rivers and small streams throughout the country to decline, according to a new study from researchers at the Colorado School of Mines and the University of Arizona.

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.

The Colorado River is short on water. But you wouldn’t know it by looking at a slate of proposed water projects in the river’s Upper Basin states of Colorado, Utah and Wyoming.

The river and its tributaries provide water for 40 million people in the Southwest. For about the last 20 years, demand for water has outstripped the supply, causing its largest reservoirs to decline.

Sustainable Settings

The fruit growing on the apricot tree at Sustainable Settings this spring affirmed for Brook LeVan the benefits of his long-standing, friendly relationship with the wild.

nfvcra.org

The Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund is bringing its Democracy School to Paonia in October. Raleigh Burleigh spoke with Lesandre Holiday of the group North Fork Valley Community Rights Advocates at the recent Community Fair and Solutions Expo in Paonia Town Park.

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.”

Will Evans

 

Dick Lamm,

 

38th Governor of Colorado,

 

reflects as an elder

 

on the

 

“Law of Unintended Consequences”

 

and our relationship

 

with

 

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.

Scientists are ramping up research on the possible health effects of a large group of common but little-understood chemicals used in water-resistant clothing, stain-resistant furniture, nonstick cookware and many other consumer products.

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.

Connecting The Drops: What Not To Flush

Apr 17, 2019
Maeve Conran/Connecting the Drops

Wastewater and municipal sewer systems around the country are dealing with a growing problem – people are putting things down the drain and down the toilet that are playing havoc with the system.

Peter Heller

Best-selling author Peter Heller joins Bill Kight on For Land's Sake to talk about his new book The River.

Paul Hempel is responsible for Source Water Protection within the Colorado Rural Water Association and has gift for standing with sufficient stature and neutrality to facilitate communication between the oil and gas industry and community water providers and swallowers.

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.

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.

Luke Runyon/KUNC

In the foothills outside Longmont, Colorado, tucked high in a narrow valley, sits an ugly, cement slab. It's the size of a train car and juts out into North St. Vrain Creek, a shallow alpine stream that serves as the city's main drinking water supply. A tiny sign greets hikers as they pass the structure. It reads: "Chimney Rock Dam." A small arrow points to the right. What the sign doesn't tell you is how that cement slab ended up there.

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.

Hannah Leigh Myers

It’s been more than three years since the Animas River near Durango turned orange from the release of toxic mining chemicals. But the Gold King Mine spill may be inspiring some long-sought-after changes. For Connecting the Drops, Hannah Leigh Myers reports...

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.

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