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.

Courtesy Northern Water

In an attempt to halt the construction of Chimney Hollow Reservoir outside Loveland, and the diversion of Western Slope water to the Front Range, environmental groups filed a lawsuit Thursday against the federal government, saying an environmental analysis on the Windy Gap Firming Project failed to provide enough viable alternatives.

The environmental coalition, led by Fort Collins-based Save The Colorado and aided by the University of Denver College of Law’s Environmental Law Clinic, sued both the Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers for what it says were faulty federal permits to build the project. The Northern Colorado Water Conservancy District proposed the Windy Gap Firming Project.

Courtesy U.S. Geological Survey

In the spring of 2014, a rare moment happened on the lowest stretches of the Colorado River. Instead of its last few drops being diverted at a dam near the U.S.-Mexico border, it flowed through its banks.

“There was a remarkable amount of excitement and energy in the air,” says James Leenhouts, a U.S. Geological Survey hydrologist who runs the agency’s Arizona Water Science Center and was present for the moment. “One of the most remarkable impacts of the flow was the human impact.”

In communities where the river hadn’t flowed for nearly two decades, impromptu festivals broke out, children waded into the water and mariachi bands set up to entertain the crowds. As the water settled into the valley it was clear the “experimental pulse flow” made a profound cultural imprint on the region the Colorado River once regularly flooded.

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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Stories of Western groundwater wells going dry started bubbling up during a multi-year drought that began in 2012. Farmers and rural communities throughout the Rocky Mountains and central California owned wells no longer deep enough to tap into underground water supplies.

But those anecdotal stories didn’t have data to back them up. Now they do.

Luke Runyon / KUNC and Harvest Public Media

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.”

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