Western Water Coverage | KUNC

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.), High Plains Public Radio (Garden City, Kan.) 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.

Judy Fahys / InsideClimate News

Charismatic is hardly the best word to describe the humpback chub, a fish with a frowny eel face jammed onto a sportfish body in a way that suggests evolution has a sense of humor. Nor did tastiness build a fan base for this "trash fish" across its natural habitat throughout the Colorado River Basin. But, in 1973, the humpback chub became famous by winning federal protection under the Endangered Species Act.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

A tight-lipped Western Colorado irrigation association is remaining neutral on the growing presence of private investors in their sizable pool of senior water rights.

Peter Krocek / Courtesy of the National Park Service

The water has made development possible and is used for farms, homes and businesses. Meanwhile, recreation has risen to over 4 million annual visitors in Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, with tourists bringing in over $420 million to local communities.

Mitch Tobin / waterdesk.org

When the Glen Canyon Dam was completed in 1966, it was a major development for water management in the arid west. It would also transform Glen Canyon, sometimes described as America's "lost national park," into the second largest man-made reservoir in the country.

Nick Cote for KUNC/LightHawk

Use it or lose it.

That saying is at the heart of how access to water is managed in the western U.S. Laws that govern water in more arid states, like Colorado, incentivize users to always take their full share from rivers and streams, or risk the state rescinding it. The threat comes in the form of a once-a-decade document that lists those users on the brink of losing their access to one of the region's most precious resources.

For Now, No Border Wall For Arizona Tribe's Colorado River Stretch

Jun 15, 2020
Luke Runyon / KUNC

President Trump's wall now stretches along 200 miles of U.S.-Mexico borderland. Progress hasn't slowed during the coronavirus pandemic; in some places it's even accelerating. But there's a tiny swath of tribal land on the Colorado River where that's not the case.

Courtesy Glenn Spencer

Contractors continue to install new border barriers across the U.S.-Mexico border, including many across sensitive lands, including Organ Pipe Cactus National Monument, the San Bernardino National Wildlife Refuge and Cabeza Prieta National Monument.

In January, hundreds of people gathered on a small bridge spanning the San Pedro River to protest the pending construction of a border barrier across the riverbed.

In Nevada, Investors Eye Underground Water Storage As A Path To Profits

Jun 2, 2020
David Calvert / The Nevada Independent

Twenty-two miles outside of the nearest town (Wells, pop. 1,246), graffiti on a crumbling hotel wall reads: "Home on the Strange." Down a dirt road, there's an abandoned car. An arch stands at the entrance of a dilapidated school. It's what is left of a town that lost most of its water rights.

Around the turn of the last century, New York investors established Metropolis, Nevada as a farming community. By 1912, they had constructed a dam. They built a hotel, a school and an events center. The Southern Pacific Railroad constructed an office and built a line to the town.

Then the water ran dry.

Bret Jaspers for KJZZ

Central Arizona has been booming -- more people, more houses, more need for water. There's also a long-term drought, and less water to buy from the Central Arizona Project canal system . It's leading Phoenix exurbs to cast about, looking for new buckets.

Other regions of the state say: don't come here.

Western Colorado Water Purchases Are Stirring Up Worries About The Future Of Farming

Jun 2, 2020
Bethany Blitz / Aspen Journalism

For five years, Zay Lopez tended vegetables, hayfields and cornfields, chickens, and a small flock of sheep here on the western edge of Colorado's Grand Valley - farming made possible by water from the Colorado River.

Lopez has a passion for agriculture, and for a while, he carved out a niche with his business, The Produce Peddler, trucking veggies seven hours away to a farmers market in Pinedale, Wyoming.

Lopez also moonlights as a Realtor, with his finger on the pulse of the local real estate market. A few years ago, he noticed a strange new phenomenon. Much of the irrigated agricultural land sold in the valley - such as parcels just down the road from his farm - wasn't being bought by another farmer. Instead, his new neighbor was Water Asset Management, a New York City-based hedge fund with deep pockets.

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