Western Water Coverage

As demand grows on western watersheds, reporting on water issues becomes more important. KUNC's Luke Runyon heads up the water beat, covering the Colorado River, snowpack and areas dependent on those limited water resources.

These stories are part of a project covering the Colorado River, produced by KUNC and supported through a Walton Family Foundation grant. KUNC is solely responsible for its editorial content.

Judy Fahys / KUER News

Brooks Kelly stopped at a display of smart sprinkler-system controllers.

“This 6-station timer — it’s got a rebate,” said Kelly, who works the plumbing aisle at the St. George, Utah Home Depot. “You buy it (and the) Washington County water district gives a $99 credit to your water bill. So, this is free.”

Bret Jaspers / KJZZ

Jose Alvarez, a supervisor at R. H. Dupper Landscaping, stood up from changing a sprinkler nozzle on a large grassy field at a homeowner’s association in Chandler, Arizona. He surveyed the turf, a patchwork of green and brown.

In The Desert City Of Tucson, The Grass Is Not Greener

Jul 3, 2018
Vanessa Barchfield / Arizona Public Media

Tucson, Arizona used to be a city of lawns. Patches of Bermuda grass lined residential neighborhoods, kept green — even in blazing summer months — with diligent watering. Over the decades, that has changed. Tucsonans eschew lush lawns for landscaping that is more in tune with the city's desert setting — though that doesn't necessarily mean there's no green.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Throughout the Western U.S., water conservation is in the toilet.

And that’s a good thing.

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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Fear can be a powerful motivator.

The mention of one plausible future scenario along the Colorado River is enough to make some water managers in the West break into a sweat. It’s called the Compact Call, and even though it’s never happened — and is years away from ever happening — its invocation conjures up dystopian imagery of a southwest battling over scarce water supplies.

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.

Edwin van Buuringen / Flickr

Reservoirs that store water along the Colorado River are projected to be less than half full later this year, potentially marking a historic low mark for the river system that supplies water to seven U.S. states and Mexico.

Forecasters with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation expect the river’s reservoirs -- Lakes Mead and Powell among them -- to be at a combined 48 percent of capacity by the end of September. That would be one of the lowest points ever for the combined water storage.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

An old water cliché tells us that “water flows uphill toward money.” It’s an adage born out of people’s frustrations about who benefits when water moves around in the Western U.S., popularized by author Marc Reisner’s 1986 book, “Cadillac Desert.”

Like all persistent folksy sayings, it’s a mix of myth and truth.

But there’s at least one case where it has some validity: the phenomenon known as “buy and dry” along Colorado’s fast-growing, historically agricultural Front Range.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

The effects of climate change are already being felt at the headwaters of the West’s most important river system, according to a study released earlier this year.

The Rocky Mountain Climate Organization compiled the latest science on climate change in the Colorado River headwaters in a report titled Climate Change in the Headwater: Water and Snow Impacts (PDF), presented to the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments in February.

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