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.), KRCC (Colorado Springs, 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.

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.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Updated 11/6/19 at 3:13 p.m.

Proposition DD has passed with 50.7% of the vote, according to unofficial vote totals from the Colorado Secretary of State's office. The Associated Press called the race Wednesday afternoon. Starting May 2020 the state will be regulating and taxing sports gambling in the state, with the vast majority of revenue set aside for projects and programs laid out in the Colorado Water Plan. 

On The Colorado River's Banks, A Toxic Pile Continues To Shrink

Oct 21, 2019
Credit U.S. Department of Energy

In a park, nestled in a red rock canyon outside Moab, Utah -- a short drive from a giant pile of uranium tailings -- a crowd gathered for a celebration. Elected officials and community members mingled, and enjoyed refreshments. 

Volunteers placed pieces of yellow cake in small paper bowls.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Music is blaring and grills are firing up at a parking lot awash in navy blue and orange outside Empower Field at Mile High Stadium in Denver.

Todd Endicott of Lafayette stands outside an ambulance turned Broncos fan-mobile. He outfitted this orange and blue rig for tailgates. It’s plastered in life-size stickers of players, and the football team’s logos, vintage and new. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Climate change has been called the new normal. But residents in some parts of the Southwest say after living through the last two years, there’s nothing normal about it. 

Communities in the Four Corners -- where the borders of Colorado, Utah, New Mexico and Arizona meet -- have been bouncing between desperately dry and record-breaking moisture since the winter of 2017, forcing people dependent on the reliability and predictability of water to adapt.

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. 

Luke Runyon / KUNC

One hundred and fifty years ago, a group of explorers led by Civil War veteran John Wesley Powell set out to document the canyons of the Green and Colorado Rivers. It was the first trip of its kind. To commemorate the journey, a group of scientists, artists and graduate students from the University of Wyoming called the Sesquicentennial Colorado River Exploring Expedition has been retracing his steps this summer. 

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