Western Slope

Luke Runyon / KUNC

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.

Esther Honig / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

Parts of Colorado are experiencing the worst drought conditions in more than a decade.

The severity of the drought varies across the state, from few if any impacts in the state’s northeastern corner to severe and record-breaking conditions in the southern half of the state.

Colorado River Basin Watches As Arizona Reboots Drought Talks

Jun 20, 2018
Bret Jaspers / KJZZ

Water leaders in Arizona are again trying to get to “yes” on a deal that deals with drought. This would help prepare the state for future cuts to its water supply if -- and likely when -- Lake Mead drops below specific levels. A renewed effort to achieve an agreement comes after a year of anxiety and gridlock over the future of the Colorado River.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

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.

One year ago — on Aug. 5, 2015 — an EPA crew at the Gold King Mine in southwest Colorado accidentally unleashed 3 million gallons of orange water filled with mercury and arsenic.

The toxic spill flowed into the Animas River, eventually running into New Mexico's San Juan River and into Lake Powell. So far, disaster response and water quality monitoring have cost the EPA about $29 million — and the problem isn't over yet.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Eighty-four-year-old Joyce Reiche has a two-bedroom home close to downtown Eagle, Colorado, on the Western Slope. Like many, she's trying to plan for the next phase of life.

"The things I used to like to do I can't do any more, like hike, cross-country ski, go up to the mountains, and do things like that," Reiche said. "I mainly stay home, but I'm content at home."

Colorado's population is not only growing, it's also getting older. Many of the state's counties are poised to see huge increases in the number of people over the age of 65 in the next 25 years.

Mesa Verde National Park in southwest Colorado is known for its iconic cliff dwellings, but archaeological artifacts left by the Ancestral Pueblo are all over. Rocky remnants of homes and farming sites are scattered throughout the dense pinyon juniper forest.

Take A Look Inside The Colorado Lab Trying To Breed Better, More Helpful Bugs

Jul 21, 2016
Dan Garrison / for Harvest Public Media

Halfway down a dead-end road in the small farming town of Palisade, Colorado, is a research facility known as "The Insectary." Scientists at the lab develop "biocontrol insects," bugs adapted to attacking other insects and the plants harmful to agriculture. Colorado's Insectary is the oldest and largest facility of its kind in the United States.

It's here that the Colorado Department of Agriculture is finding ways to kill pests dead – without the aid of chemicals.

The last fully operational coal mine in the western part of the state announced layoffs Thursday.

The West Elk Mine outside of Paonia is owned by Arch Coal. The company filed for bankruptcy in January and says it’s letting go of 80 workers.

Courtesy Chris Blumenstein

Vietnam War veteran Rodger Holmes became ill in 2014, at the height of a national scandal over long patient wait times at care centers and allegations of negligence at the Department of Veterans Affairs. Holmes, who sought care for his Hepatitis C liver disease at the Grand Junction VA Health Care System, was among those to complain.  

"He lost a tremendous amount of weight," said Chris Blumenstein, who served as a VA social worker to Holmes. "He was losing his mental clarity, his mental sharpness, he couldn't remember things."

Holmes died in December 2014, but in response to concerns, the VA's national Office of Inspector General launched an investigation and released recommendations May 11, 2016.

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