Yampa River | KUNC

Yampa River

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Coal-fired power plants are closing, or being given firm deadlines for closure, across the country. In the Western states that make up the overallocated and drought-plagued Colorado River, these facilities use a significant amount of the region's scarce water supplies.

With closure dates looming, communities are starting the contentious debate about how this newly freed up water should be put to use.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Finding a river in the West that still behaves like a Western river -- one that rises and falls with the annual rush of melting snow -- is tough. 

Many of the region’s major streams are controlled by dams. Their flows come at the push of a button. Instead of experiencing dynamic flows, dammed rivers are evened out. Floods are mitigated and managed, seen as a natural disaster rather than an ecological necessity. 

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

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.

David Steinmann

Native American legends spoke of a gateway to the underworld, with noxious clouds of steam spewing from the Earth. Humans would pass out in a few minutes if they enter the cave because of the lethal levels of hydrogen sulfide and carbon dioxide. Located on the side of Steamboat Springs' Howelsen Hill, the ancient cave was formed by hot spring water flowing through the travertine rock.

This dark, slimy, stinky site -- Sulphur Cave Spring -- is also the only place in the world a new species of tiny worms have been found.

The Friends of the Yampa and American Rivers decided that rafting a river was the best way to start a discussion on water conservation and use. The twist? These rafters were water bigwigs. The movers and shakers of water policy. The Smithsonian has story...

Sonja Hinrichsen / used with permission

In 2009, when artist Sonja Hinrichsen was in Snowmass Village for an artist's residency, she took a walk in the snow with a new pair of snowshoes, and started to mess around.

"It started just out of play, walking patterns into fields of snow. There is a pretty big golf course in that area…and nobody would go there."

Hinrichsen later got her camera and photographed her patterns. That's when she realized "this amazing thing. Depending on where I was with my camera in relation to the sunlight, I got a white line in the snow or I got a dark line in the snow."

Maeve Conran / KGNU

All around Colorado, new collaborations are emerging around water storage and water use. Partnerships with reservoirs are turning out to be key in terms of environmental stewardship, river protection, and healthy communities that rely on water.

cm19590 / Creative Commons/Flickr

An agreement among conservation groups and water agencies may soon boost anemic stream flows along the Yampa River in Steamboat Springs.