water

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.

In India's sixth-largest city, lines for water snake around city blocks, restaurants are turning away customers and a man was killed in a brawl over water. Chennai, with a population of almost 10 million, is nearly out of water.

In much of India, municipal water, drawn from reservoirs or groundwater, typically runs for only a couple of hours each day. That's the norm year-round. The affluent fill tanks on their roofs; the poor fill jerrycans and buckets.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

https://www.wcc.nrcs.usda.gov/ftpref/states/co/snow/state/daily/co_update_snow.pdf / Natural Resources Conservation Service

High snowpack levels across the state are expected to considerably increase the flow in Colorado’s streams and reservoirs this summer.

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.

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.

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.

Water leaders from the seven states that make up the Colorado River basin are one step closer to finalizing a drought contingency plan. Representatives from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona met in Phoenix Tuesday to sign a letter to Congress asking for federal approval of the plan.

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.

The last day of January was looking like a banner day for Arizona's water planning. State lawmakers had passed legislation authorizing Arizona to enter into an important deal. Governor Doug Ducey signed the bills almost immediately.

Abigail Beckman / 91.5 KRCC

The Environmental Protection Agency released an action plan Thursday regarding potentially toxic chemicals known as PFAS. The chemicals have been detected in drinking water in Security, Widefield, and Fountain, among other locations across the country.

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.

The surface temperature at a major reservoir in Colorado has risen 5 degrees over a 35 year period. That's according to a new study from researchers at the University of Colorado Boulder.

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.

A Jan. 31 deadline is approaching for the Drought Contingency Plans, a set of agreements between seven states about how to manage dwindling water supplies, including here in the Mountain West.

The region has been in a drought for 19 years now, and water levels continue to retreat in major reservoirs.

Drought Puts A Pinch On Southern Colorado Agriculture

Dec 26, 2018
Dana Cronin / 91.5 KRCC

Colorado's farming and ranching communities are facing a season of economic losses, after summer drought dried up grass for cattle, killed crops and kept thousands of acres from being planted. 

Jake Brownell / 91.5 KRCC

Some residents of Security, Widefield, and Fountain have elevated levels of potentially toxic chemicals in their blood, according to new research by the Colorado School of Public Health and the Colorado School of Mines. The chemicals, from a family of compounds known as per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), are believed to have leached into the Widefield aquifer from firefighting foams once used at Peterson Air Force Base. The aquifer has long been an important source of drinking water for southern El Paso County.

Western states are likely to be affected most by the Trump administration's proposal to roll back parts of the Clean Water Act. The Environmental Protection Agency would no longer give special protections to thousands of miles of seasonal streams and millions of acres of wetlands that often go dry by late summer in the arid West. That would leave states to decide whether to protect such waters themselves. 

LAS VEGAS -- Water leaders throughout the West now have a hard deadline to finish deals that would keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from dropping to deadpool levels.

The nation’s top water official is giving leaders of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River until January 31, 2019 to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan. The combination of multi-state agreements would change how reservoirs are operated and force earlier water cutbacks within the river’s lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as reservoirs drop.

Colorado River water managers have plenty to argue about. But there’s one thing on which nearly everyone who relies on the southwestern river can agree. The foundational document that divvies up the water -- the Colorado River Compact -- has some big flaws.

Discussion on how to fix the compact’s problems is where that consensus breaks down, often with the invocation of one word: renegotiation.

The effects of climate change are not far off problems for future generations. They are existential problems for everyone alive today.

That’s one big takeaway from the U.S. federal government’s latest roundup of climate science, the National Climate Assessment, now in its fourth iteration.

In 2007, years into a record-breaking drought throughout the southwestern U.S., officials along the Colorado River finally came to an agreement on how they’d deal with future water shortages -- and then quietly hoped that wet weather would return.

But it didn’t.

The Environmental Protection Agency is making $20 million available for states and tribes to voluntarily test drinking water for lead at schools and childcare facilities.

It's no secret that water is a problem in the West. Historically, the humble beaver helped maintain wetlands and ponds across the arid landscape but their populations were decimated during the fur trade and their numbers dropped dramatically from 400 million to just 100,000 by the turn of the twentieth century. But Canada's national animal is making a comeback and scientists think they have an important role to play as our region fights drought.

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