Western Water Coverage

Throughout the history of the American West, water issues have shown their ability to both unite and divide communities. As an imbalance between water supplies and demands grows in the region, KUNC is committed to covering the stories that emerge. Reporter Luke Runyon heads up our water beat, covering the Colorado River, snowpack and areas dependent on scarce water resources.

We partner with news organizations throughout the southwest to fully cover water issues in the sprawling Colorado River basin. 

Our partners include: Aspen Public Radio (Aspen, Colo.), KVNF (Paonia, Colo.), KRZA (Alamosa, Colo.), KDNK (Carbondale, Colo.), KBUT (Crested Butte, Colo.), KSJD (Cortez, Colo.), KOTO (Telluride, Colo.), KNPR (Las Vegas, Nev.), KPBS (San Diego, Calif.), KUER (Salt Lake City, Utah), KJZZ (Phoenix, Ariz.), Arizona Public Media (Tucson, Ariz.), Wyoming Public Media (Laramie, Wyo.), KUNM (Albuquerque, New Mex.), KZMU (Moab, Utah), KAWC (Yuma, Ariz.), KHOL (Jackson, Wyo.), Cronkite News (Phoenix, Ariz.), and the Mountain West News Bureau

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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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Every time thick, dark rain clouds move over the deserts that surround Las Vegas, there's an anticipatory buzz. Flora and fauna alike begin preparing for the rare event, lying in wait for the first few drops.

Todd Esque is usually waiting for them too from his office in Henderson, Nevada. He knows how much desert life depends on their arrival. So when they do come, he's smiling.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

With short-term drought plans finished, water managers from across the Southwest recently gathered in Las Vegas to figure out what's next.

The Colorado River Water Users Association annual conference brings together nearly every municipal water agency, irrigation district, Native American tribe and environmental group that relies on the Colorado River.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

The West’s water security is wrapped up in snow. When it melts, it becomes drinking and irrigation water for millions throughout the region. A high snowpack lets farmers, skiers and water managers breathe a sigh of relief, while a low one can spell long-term trouble.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

The federal government is now taking comments on alternatives to a project in western Colorado notorious for causing earthquakes. 

The Bureau of Reclamation is looking for replacements for the Paradox Valley Unit, located in a remote part of western Colorado’s Montrose County. The agency released a draft environmental impact statement for those replacements Friday. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Colorado’s mountains were served a thick dollop of snow in back-to-back storms that covered nearly the entire state during the Thanksgiving holiday. 

While the snow made travel close to impossible, grounding planes and closing roads, the additional moisture erased deficits in the headwaters of some of the region’s most important rivers. 

Nick Cote for KUNC / LightHawk

A new federal program hopes to fill in knowledge gaps on how water moves through the headwaters of arguably the West’s most important drinking and irrigation water source. 

The U.S. Geological Survey announced the next location for its Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS) will be in the headwaters of the Colorado and Gunnison rivers. It’s the second watershed in the country to be part of the program, after a successful pilot on the Delaware River started last year.

Bret Jaspers / KJZZ

Patrick Johnson closed on 2,500 acres in Pinal County over five years ago. The property, just off Interstate 8, is mostly farm fields right now. Johnson’s plan is to build a dream spot for motorsports lovers, including two tracks for racing or testing, 2,000 homes, and a hotel. 

But millions of dollars in, Johnson is a long way from a grand opening.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

As climate change continues to sap the Colorado River’s water, some users face serious legal risks to their supplies, according to a new analysis by researchers in Colorado and New Mexico. 

Declining flows could force Southwest water managers to confront long-standing legal uncertainties, and threaten the water security of Upper Basin states of Colorado, Wyoming, Utah and New Mexico.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Earlier this year, Arizona -- one of seven southwestern states that rely on the Colorado River -- was in the midst of a heated discussion about water.

“It’s time to protect Lake Mead and Arizona,” the state’s Republican governor, Doug Ducey, said in his state of the state address in January 2019. He spoke to lawmakers in the midst of uncomfortable, emotional discussions at the statehouse in Phoenix about who gets access to water in the arid West, and who doesn’t. 

In A Revived Arizona River, A Wildlife Oasis Is Remade

Nov 11, 2019
Ariana Brocious / Arizona Public Media

Much of the Santa Cruz River is a dry, desert wash, only flowing after heavy monsoon rains. As Tucson Water hydrologist Dick Thompson and I walk along the river south of Starr Pass Boulevard, he points out how brown the vegetation looks.

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