It’s hard to overstate the importance of the Colorado River as an essential part of life in the Western U.S. But the future of the river is shrouded in both optimism and pessimism.
KUNC’s Luke Runyon is moving on from his reporting role with Harvest Public Media to spend the next two years covering the Colorado River.
He spoke with KUNC's Ashley Jefcoat and Erin O'Toole to explain his new beat.
Where the pessimism comes from:
Luke Runyon: Growth is a major story for the river right now. Cities in the watershed are growing — Phoenix, Los Angeles, Las Vegas. Same with the Front Range of Colorado, which uses water from the river. And right now, a lot of it is used for agriculture. So those growing cities could take water away from those farms.
And there’s still plenty of uncertainty on how climate change will change things, but there’s some early evidence that a hotter planet will put even more pressure on the Colorado.
And the root of the optimism:
Runyon: Well, just this summer we saw Mexico and the U.S. come together to update a treaty between the two countries. In the past there was loose language regarding the extreme weather conditions the river deals with ... droughts and floods and there was some ambiguity in how the countries had to respond.
So this update binds Mexico and the U.S. together when it comes to river management, and it says, "in times of drought the two countries have to cut back on what they’re using." And the same for flood — both countries can store the extra water.
There’s an increasing interest in the overall health of the river. It seems to have captured a certain segment of the public imagination. People know the river is important, but they don’t always know the details why, and they want to know more about it. And water is historically a huge area of conflict in the West, but some old divisions are beginning to fade away.