water

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.

Holly Pretsky / 91.5 KRCC

Oral health falls under Governor John Hickenlooper's Top 10 Winnable Battles for health in Colorado. Consuming fluoride in water is one safe and inexpensive way to help prevent dental decay, according to public health experts, and it was discovered right here in Colorado.

Charles Gatebe / Nasa flickr

Researchers at NASA have launched a new project to pioneer technologies for measuring snowpack. 

Malika Ladak / Flickr-Creative Commons

The Colorado State Forest Service is reminding folks to keep up with watering their trees throughout the winter.

Maeve Conran / Connecting the Drops

About three years ago, flood waters rushed down the Big Thompson River through Estes Park and eastward to Loveland, destroying whole stretches of the river channel and adjoining roads. That flood echoed a similar one 40 years ago that killed 144 people, destroyed countless homes and decimated the riverbed. Now, roads are being repaired and the eco-system is slowly recovering. That recovery is crucial for the economy of local communities.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Officials at Peterson Air Force Base say they've finished drilling wells meant to help determine whether the base is to blame for potentially toxic Perfluorinated Compounds, or PFCs, detected in drinking water in southern El Paso County. 

Bureau of Land Management / Public Domain

A group of researchers has compiled experts' opinions on top Colorado River priorities that should be addressed by the new president.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

The Air Force released new details yesterday about a previously reported discharge of contaminated water into the Colorado Springs sewer system at Peterson Air Force Base. Officials are now saying the discharge didn’t happen as they thought.

Maeve Conran / Connecting the Drops

It's been almost a century since the Colorado River Compact was created, divvying up the resources of this mighty waterway between seven states and Mexico. That means almost 40 million people are dependent on the river in some way. Traditionally, the economic value of the river was based on what the water could be used for when extracted—things like agriculture, mining, and industry. Now, more people are pointing to the economic value of keeping water in the river itself.

Toby R. Ault, Justin S. Mankin, Benjamin I. Cook and Jason E. Smerdon / Journal: Science Advances

A recent study shows megadroughts could become more common throughout the Southwest. The study suggests droughts lasting at least 35 years will become longer and dryer as temperatures continue to rise.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Officials at Peterson Air Force Base say 150,000 gallons of water containing perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, were mistakenly discharged into the Colorado Springs sewer system earlier this month. According to a Colorado Springs Utilities spokesperson, those PFCs have since made their way into Fountain Creek.

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Attorneys with Colorado Springs-based McDivitt Law and New York firm Napoli Shkolnik are calling on the Colorado Department of Health to help pay for blood testing for people living in areas where perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs, have been detected above safe levels. 

Jake Brownell / KRCC

Two Colorado based law firms filed class action suits last week over water contamination in southern El Paso County. It's the latest installment in a saga that's been ongoing since May. That was when the EPA revised their standards and announced a new health advisory for perfluorinated compounds, or PFCs. The chemicals were detected above the new health advisory levels in the drinking water in Security, Widefield, and Fountain. 

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