water

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC


Peak Curiosity is a community-driven reporting series from 91.5 KRCC. We ask listeners to submit their questions about the Pikes Peak region and Southern Colorado, and then we answer them. Scroll down to the bottom of this post to submit your question!

The federal agency that oversees water in the West says southwestern states are facing an increasing risk of water shortages. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is now adding pressure to stalled talks over the Colorado River’s future.

Without action from states that rely on the river, there’s a 52 percent chance the Colorado River will be in an official shortage in 2020, according to figures compiled last month. Arizona and Nevada would be among the first to take cutbacks during a shortage. An extended drought and chronic overuse have sapped the river’s largest reservoirs.

2018 wasn't the worst winter on record for the southern Rocky Mountain region, but it was close to it.

“It was an extreme year on the dry side, widespread across the Colorado River Basin,” says Greg Smith, a hydrologist at the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center (CBRFC) in Salt Lake City.

After nearly a month of terse exchanges among water managers in Colorado, Wyoming, New Mexico, Utah and Arizona about Colorado River conservation strategies, representatives from the five states met Monday in Salt Lake City to hash out their differences.

At issue is how the Central Arizona Project (CAP) -- the operator of a 336-mile aqueduct that pumps Colorado River water to farmers and cities -- is conserving water in Lake Mead, the river’s largest reservoir. The project is managed by the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District (CAWCD) and is the state’s largest water provider.

A quiet, rising tension over water in the southwest has burst into the public square.

Agencies that manage and dole out the Colorado River’s water in Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico are attempting to publicly shame an increasingly isolated water agency in Arizona. The feud has the potential to either upset, or reignite, negotiations over the river’s future.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

It’s been nearly two years since residents in southern El Paso County learned their drinking water contained potentially unsafe levels of chemicals known as perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs (also referred to as PFAS). The chemicals were long used in products ranging from non-stick pans to industrial fire fighting foams, and they’ve been linked in recent years to certain cancers and other health conditions.

Ohio-based attorney Rob Bilott has been working on cases related to PFC contamination since the late 90s, and is credited with helping to bring the issue to light nationally through his litigation in West Virginia. He’s not affiliated with a local lawsuit against manufacturers of the PFC-containing firefighting foams thought to be responsible for contamination in the Widefield aquifer, but he’ll be speaking about the issue at Mesa Ridge High School in Widefield on Tuesday, 4/17, at 7 p.m.

From the roof of Chuck McAfee’s adobe farmhouse in rural southwestern Colorado, you can see into three other states: Arizona, New Mexico and Utah. Mountain peaks are just barely visible above the horizon.

Even though this part of Montezuma County is considered the high desert, it’s common for these grass and sagebrush hills to be snow-covered into spring. This year they’re bare, and have been since last winter.

The Colorado River Basin is likely to see one of its driest spring runoff seasons on record this year, according to federal forecasters.

Scientists at the Salt Lake City-based Colorado Basin River Forecast Center say current snowpack conditions are set to yield the sixth-lowest recorded runoff into Lake Powell since the lake was filled more than 50 years ago.

In parched states like Colorado, Utah, Wyoming, Montana and Idaho, water is a big issue, especially with growing populations that constantly need more and more. But there’s a big question: How do we accurately forecast the amount of water that will be available any given year? It’s not easy. But some Colorado scientists think they’re onto a possible solution -- inspired by Pokemon.

Western governors want to see more federal action to combat tiny but destructive creatures: invasive mussels.

A quagga mussel is only about the size of your thumbnail. But when the little mollusk reproduces en masse, it can wreak havoc on agriculture and lake tourism.

The humpback chub, a fish native to the Colorado River and considered endangered since 1967, has turned a corner.

In a recent analysis, scientists at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service say the chub’s five distinct populations throughout the Colorado River watershed in Colorado, Utah, and Arizona are stable enough to reclassify the fish as threatened rather than endangered.

Photo by Sierra Coon / Canyonlands National Park

Many are calling it far-fetched, but a mountain west entrepreneur is reviving a proposal to draw water from Utah's Green River and funnel it to Colorado's growing and drought-prone Front Range. The pipeline would move billions of gallons of water across hundreds of miles from Utah through Wyoming and down into Colorado.

Jim Mone / AP

 

Manufacturing and chemical giant 3M will pay $850 million to settle a lawsuit with the state of Minnesota over groundwater contaminated with Perfluorinated Compounds, or PFCs. 3M is also one of several companies named in a lawsuit over PFC contamination identified in El Paso County drinking water in 2016.

In 2014, the Colorado River did something it hadn’t done in decades. For a few short weeks that spring, the overdrawn, overallocated river reached the Pacific Ocean.

Instead of diverting the river’s last bit of water toward farm fields, the final dam on the Colorado River at the Mexican border lifted, and water inundated nearly 100 miles of the dry riverbed. It was called the pulse flow, meant to mimic a spring flood.


This winter in the southern Rocky Mountains is shaping up to be one for the record books. And not in a good way.

Parts of the West are currently experiencing one of the driest and warmest winters on record. Snowpack is far below normal levels in southern Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and California, leaving some to worry about this year’s water supply.


National Resources Conservation Service / www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov

Southern Colorado progressed from abnormally dry to moderate drought this week, according to the latest data from the US Drought Monitor. This comes as the region -- like the rest of the state -- is also seeing unusually low snowpack.

When you’ve held on to something valuable for a long time, it can be hard to choose to give it up. When that something is water, it’s even harder — especially in the desert southwest.

But that’s the reality facing water managers in the lower stretches of the Colorado River, a lifeline for farms and cities in the country’s driest regions.

Pull out a map of the United States’ desert southwest and see if you can locate these rivers: Rio del Tizon, Rio San Rafael, or Rio Zanguananos. How about rivers named Tomichi, Nah-Un-Kah-Rea or Akanaquint?

Having some trouble? None of these names are used widely today, but at some point in the last 500 years they were used to label portions of what we know now as the Colorado River and its main tributaries, the sprawling river basin that supports 40 million people in seven U.S. states and Mexico, across one of the world’s driest regions.

Until 1921, the Colorado River didn’t start in the state that bears the same name. It began in Utah, where the Green River from Wyoming and the Grand River from Colorado met. The story of how the Colorado River finally wended its way into the state of Colorado less than a century ago is a lesson in just how fickle our attitudes toward nature can be.

In poll after poll, Americans make it clear: People working together is a good thing.

Collaboration is a lofty goal touted by political and business leaders as a potential way forward on anything from climate change to healthcare to obesity. Drop your weapons, turn your enemies into partners and achieve great things — or so the thinking goes. But collaboration is a concept that sounds great in the abstract and quickly turns messy in practice, with plenty of pitfalls along the way toward a common goal.

Avoiding drawn out fights has always been tough when dealing with water issues in the West.  Collaboration wasn’t always the go-to strategy for environmentalists, political figures and water managers who held competing interests on overtaxed, overdrawn rivers.

But with the Windy Gap Firming Project in northern Colorado’s mountains, old grudges are being put aside in favor of new, collaborative tactics. While some of the West’s oldest enemies are working together, those who feel left behind by all the newfound teamwork aren’t ready to sing "Kumbaya."

Update 10-23-17: The Colorado Attorney General's Office has filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit brought by Deep Green Resistance on behalf of the Colorado River ecosystem. The story has been updated to reflect this development.

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A few months ago Denver civil rights lawyer Jason Flores-Williams had an idea. He’s made a name for himself recently in a class action lawsuit against the city of Denver where he’s representing the city’s homeless people.

“A lot of times I meet with class members, I take them out to dinner because they’re starving,” he said.

While at a Denver Mexican restaurant, the group started talking about homelessness. One of his homeless clients piped up.

“In an off the cuff, offhand comment [he] said, ‘the only thing more homeless than the homeless is nature,’” Flores-Williams recalled.

Fewer Regulations Heighten Cities’ Concerns Over Water Quality, Cost To Clean It Up

Nov 6, 2017

There’s a city council election in Des Moines soon, and voters have questions about the rivers where the city draws its water supply.

“Is (the water) safe to drink? Is it safe to consume?” candidate Michael Kiernan says he’s been asked.

In the summer of 2002, water pumps in Colorado’s San Luis Valley stopped working.

The center pivot sprinklers that coax shoots from the dry soil and turn the valley into one of the state’s most productive agricultural regions strained so hard to pull water from an underground aquifer that they created sunken pits around them.

“This one right over here,” says potato farmer Doug Messick as he walks toward a sprinkler, near the town of Center. He's the farm manager for the valley's Spud Grower Farms. “I came up to it one day and I could’ve driven my pickup in that hole.”

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith [LC-DIG-highsm-11937]

Efforts to manage and preserve the Colorado River are getting a boost from the Walton Family Foundation, which has pledged $20 million over the next two years to fund projects aimed at water conservation and restoring river ecosystems.

Dana Cronin / 91.5 KRCC

Family farms line the southern reaches of the Arkansas River in Colorado. The agricultural community there depends on the river's yearly flows for crop irrigation. But with predictions of less water in the future, the region could face tradeoffs over the coming decades.

Dana Cronin / 91.5 KRCC

Outdoor sports dominate the Upper Arkansas River Valley, with attractions like white water rafting and fly fishing drawing tourists from across the country. With climate scientists predicting reduced flow as the century unfolds, the region could face a future with less water.

Dana Cronin / 91.5 KRCC

The Arkansas River supports economies in Colorado from Leadville to La Junta and beyond. With base industries including tourism and agriculture, southern Colorado depends on the river's yearly flows. But climate researchers expect declines in those flows over time, leaving the Arkansas River and its dependents at risk of facing a future with less water.

Researchers have come up with a new way to extract water from thin air. Literally.

This isn't the first technology that can turn water vapor in the atmosphere into liquid water that people can drink, but researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the University of California, Berkeley, say their approach uses less power and works in drier environments.

Carol M. Highsmith / Library of Congress, Prints & Photographs Division, photograph by Carol M. Highsmith [LC-DIG-highsm-11937]

Where the Water Goes: Life and Death Along the Colorado River is a new book from David Owen, a staff writer with the New Yorker magazine and author of more than a dozen books.  His latest takes him on a journey across the west following the Colorado River: the dams, reservoirs and pipelines that help quench the thirst of seven states and parts of Mexico. 

Brennan Linsley / AP

A recent study suggests climate change could slow the rate at which snowpack melts. That could mean less water available for future use.

Public Domain

A recent study suggests the Colorado River could see a 35% flow reduction by the end of the 21st century due to the effects of climate change.

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