Western Water

Water is life. So smart reporting on water issues is a vital public service, especially with the ever-growing demand on western watersheds.

Luke Runyon covers the Colorado River, its tributaries, and the massive area dependent on its limited water resources. We quickly learn that the Roaring Fork River is connected with the snowfields of Rocky Mountain National Park, the canyons of Dinosaur National Monument, and the irrigated farmlands of southwest Arizona. These stories are part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by public radio station KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for editorial content.

Tracking the coronavirus pandemic could soon be a bit easier because of one simple fact: everyone poops.

Around the world , wastewater plants have become unlikely sentinels in the fight against the virus, allowing scientists to track the disease's spread at the community level. The practice of testing sewage samples is spreading across Western U.S. states as well, with programs currently running in Utah, Nevada, Arizona and California.

Charismatic is hardly the best word to describe the humpback chub, a fish with a frowny eel face jammed onto a sportfish body in a way that suggests evolution has a sense of humor. Nor did tastiness build a fan base for this "trash fish" across its natural habitat throughout the Colorado River Basin. But, in 1973, the humpback chub became famous by winning federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

The water has made development possible and is used for farms, homes and businesses. Meanwhile, recreation has risen to over 4 million annual visitors in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with tourists bringing in over $420 million to local communities.

A tight-lipped Western Colorado irrigation association is remaining neutral on the growing presence of private investors in their sizable pool of senior water rights.

When the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, it was a major development for water management in the arid west. It would also transform Glen Canyon, sometimes described as America's "lost national park," into the second largest man-made reservoir in the country.

In Nevada, Investors Eye Underground Water Storage As A Path To Profits

Jun 12, 2020

Twenty-two miles outside of the nearest town (Wells, pop. 1,246), graffiti on a crumbling hotel wall reads: "Home on the Strange." Down a dirt road, there's an abandoned car. An arch stands at the entrance of a dilapidated school. It's what is left of a town that lost most of its water rights.

Around the turn of the last century, New York investors established Metropolis, Nevada as a farming community. By 1912, they had constructed a dam. They built a hotel, a school and an events center. The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed an office and built a line to the town.

Then the water ran dry.

Central Arizona has been booming -- more people, more houses, more need for water. There's also a long-term drought, and less water to buy from the Central Arizona Project canal system . It's leading Phoenix exurbs to cast about, looking for new buckets.

Other regions of the state say: don't come here.

Western Colorado Water Purchases Are Stirring Up Worries About The Future Of Farming

Jun 10, 2020

For five years, Zay Lopez tended vegetables, hayfields and cornfields, chickens, and a small flock of sheep here on the western edge of Colorado's Grand Valley - farming made possible by water from the Colorado River.

Lopez has a passion for agriculture, and for a while, he carved out a niche with his business, The Produce Peddler, trucking veggies seven hours away to a farmers market in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Lopez also moonlights as a Realtor, with his finger on the pulse of the local real estate market. A few years ago, he noticed a strange new phenomenon. Much of the irrigated agricultural land sold in the valley - such as parcels just down the road from his farm - wasn't being bought by another farmer. Instead, his new neighbor was Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund with deep pockets.

A wastewater facility on Colorado's Western Slope is resuming operations more than a year after it was shut down for causing a sizable earthquake in 2019.

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.

 


Finding Columbia spotted frogs in Utah's mountains is not easy. But it's possible, with a guide like Paula Trater. She leads a visitor down a dirt path, then through mucky wetlands filled with cattails and a riot of birdsong.

NICK COTE FOR KUNC/LIGHTHAWK

Water agencies throughout the West are changing their operations during the coronavirus outbreak to make sure cities and farms don't run dry. Their responses range from extreme measures to modest adjustments to ensure their most critical workers don't succumb to the virus.

Colorado has its first two "presumptive positive" cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the latest coronavirus. State health officials on Thursday confirmed an out-of-state visitor to Summit County has tested positive.

Coal-fired power plants are closing, or being given firm deadlines for closure, across the country. In the Western states that make up the overallocated and drought-plagued Colorado River, these facilities use a significant amount of the region's scarce water supplies.

With closure dates looming, communities are starting the contentious debate about how this newly freed up water should be put to use.

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.

Pages