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Disappearing Water: Pain and hope in the Republican River basin

Disappearing Water: Pain and hope in the Republican River basin

Disappearing Water: Pain and hope in the Republican River basin

In the Colorado part of the Republican River basin, water feeds corn and wheat fields and creates a booming agricultural economy, particularly in Yuma County and the community that surrounds it. Yuma County is also the only part of the basin in Colorado that contains all three of the primary tributaries that feed into the Republican River's main body in Nebraska and Kansas.

But flowing water is disappearing from riverbeds, exacerbated by water getting pulled out of the ground surrounding the streams and long-term, severe drought driven by climate change. As wells start drying up and decades-old commitments to the basin's other two states loom, people are scrambling to save the river, economically protect their families and prepare this region for a future where most, if not all, irrigated farming might someday have to cease.
A dry riverbed, a v-shaped ditch curving into a dam with signs of erosion.
Adam Rayes
/
KUNC
The Colorado River gets a lot of attention, but it’s not the only multi-state river that starts in Colorado. And it’s definitely not the only one facing a water shortage. On the eastern side of the continental divide is the Republican River. It flows through the cropland of Yuma County and feeds into Kansas and Nebraska. In the first of a three-part series, KUNC explores the economic and environmental challenges the Republican River basin faces.

A man looks over a narrow channel of flowing water. Light-colored dirt and brown grass and covers the surrounding banks
Adam Rayes
/
KUNC
Part one of KUNC's Republican River series showed how dropping river flows and groundwater levels are impacting farmers and ranchers in northeastern Colorado. From a 1930s flood to extended drought today, the river has been managed by three states, sometimes cooperatively and sometimes combatively. To meet the terms of a decades-old compact, 25,000 irrigated acres of Colorado farmland must soon be shut down. Part two looks at part of the history that got the basin to this point.

A woman sits on a chair, next to a table with a projector connected to a laptop on it. Those are all silhowetted in the dark room. The projector is showing a powerpoint slide on the wall in front of it, the slide has several images of crops along with the words "organic farming" on it. there is more text that is not legible at this angle.
Adam Rayes
/
KUNC
Part one of KUNC's Republican River series showed how dropping river flows and groundwater levels impact farmers and ranchers in northeastern Colorado. Part two examined a portion of the history that got the basin to this point. Part three explores potential farmer-centric solutions and the impact they could have in Colorado and the other two states dependent on the river basin's water.

Additional Content
How KUNC reporter Adam Rayes reached rural ranchers in Colorado's Republican River basin

This series was produced as part of the America Amplified initiative using community engagement to inform and strengthen local, regional and national journalism. America Amplified is a public media initiative funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.