Luke Runyon

Reporter

I report on the Colorado River basin and water issues affecting the Western U.S. for KUNC and a network of public media stations in the southwest.

I came to KUNC in March 2013, after spending about two years as a reporter with Aspen Public Radio in Aspen, Colorado. Until September 2017, I was the Colorado reporter for Harvest Public Media, a reporting collaboration that focuses on agriculture and food issues in the Midwest and Great Plains. 

My reports are frequently featured on NPR's Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition, Here & Now and APM's Marketplace.

Before moving to Colorado I spent a year covering local and state government for Illinois Public Radio in the state's capital. I have a Master's degree in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois Springfield.

Ways to Connect

Paul Hermans / Wikimedia Commons

Stand near a river and you’ll hear a symphony of sounds: birds chirping, frogs croaking and water flowing. But what would it sound like if the stream itself could be transformed into classical music?

David Merritt, a Colorado-based researcher and musician, is helping answer that question by turning river data into music to hear how we’ve changed rivers throughout the West.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

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

And that’s a good thing.

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.

Few species manipulate their surroundings enough to make big ecological changes. Humans are one. Beavers are another.

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.

Larry Smith / Flickr

It’s early in the morning and Juli Scamardo is in chest waders, guiding me through a beaver meadow in Rocky Mountain National Park.

“These are like mazes,” she says. “It’s hard to get through a meadow and know where you’re going.”

Cassandra Turner / Creative Commons

The price of water within northern Colorado’s largest reservoir system is the highest it’s ever been.

Units of water within the Colorado-Big Thompson (CBT) project have sold for $30,000 and higher in 2018, a new benchmark for the water supply project that began operations in 1957.

“We’ve roughly doubled in the last five years in terms of that cost,” says Brian Werner, a spokesman for Northern Water, which oversees the CBT project. “It’s the development going on; it’s the competition for water supply.”

Luke Runyon / KUNC

A warm spring has already melted much of the limited snowpack that sits high in the Sangre de Cristo mountains in southern Colorado. Water is already flowing through the ditches near the rural village of San Pablo.

It’s 9 a.m. on a windy Saturday morning. Every now and then Dan Quintana -- in weathered work gloves and a ball cap -- raises up his shovel and slams it into the mud and matted willows that line the waterway that runs through his hay fields. His slight frame makes it easy for him to jump across the narrow ditch.

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