Water

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.

A new study reveals how much water the U.S. uses in energy production. The answer is a lot – 58 trillion gallons. The data breakdown may be critical information for the Mountain West, where energy industries are big, but water can be scarce.

SEAN MUNSON/FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

Larimer County commissioners have again delayed their vote on a controversial water pipeline the city of Thornton wants to build north of Fort Collins. The issue has been tabled until December.

Westerners in many states are using less water.  However that’s not the case in the Mountain West. In Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and Idaho, home usage went up; in Montana it stayed the same. Experts say these figures are based less on population growth and more on state water policies.

Jose Hernandez / USDA-NRCS PLANTS Database

In an open field in Longmont, Colorado, about a dozen people crouched in the tall grass, moving slowly and deliberately through mud that squelched underfoot. Some carried huge, serrated knives called hori-hori, a Japanese tool made specifically for gutting weeds. Others wielded gardening shears, saws or chemical sprays as their weapons of choice.

nicdalic / Flickr

Between growing populations and changing climate conditions, our water sources are only expected to get more crunched. Communities in some very dry states have had to get creative about where to get their water, sometimes purifying sewage into drinking water. More western cities are beginning to get on board, too. But there’s a problem: the ick factor.

Courtesy of Water World

Health officials say untreated water from an irrigation pond may have flowed into the water supply at a Denver-area water park.

Courtesy of Sybil Sharvelle / Colorado State University

Until fairly recently, it was illegal to harvest rainwater in Colorado. Now, as in a number of other Western states, it’s seen as alternative water source in an increasingly dry landscape. But is rainwater safe?

Sybil Sharvelle, an environmental engineer at Colorado State University, is one researcher trying to answer that question.

Rae Ellen Bichell / Mountain West News Bureau

Over the last decade or so, states in the Mountain West region have used less and less coal to make electricity. Wind is one of the energy sources replacing it.

Colorado’s biggest wind farm is set to be completed by this fall — and it might even help keep a piece of state history intact.

Kira Puntenney-Desmond / Colorado State University

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.

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