Western Water Coverage

As demand grows on western watersheds, reporting on water issues becomes more important. KUNC's Luke Runyon heads up the water beat, covering the Colorado River, snowpack and areas dependent on those limited water resources.

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.

Gov. Doug Ducey
Bret Jaspers / KJZZ

The seven states that rely on the Colorado River are trying to finalize details on how use less of its water. Currently all eyes are on Arizona, which has a had a tough time agreeing how to dole out cuts to water supplies.

On the first day of the legislative session, water led Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey's State of the State address. More specifically, he wants a drought plan finished — one that keeps the Colorado River system at healthy levels.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/LightHawk

Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water.

That’s according to an analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.

The briefing relies on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Natural Resources Conservation Service among others.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

In the foothills outside Longmont, Colorado, tucked high in a narrow valley, sits an ugly, cement slab. It's the size of a train car and juts out into North St. Vrain Creek, a shallow alpine stream that serves as the city's main drinking water supply.

A tiny sign greets hikers as they pass the structure. It reads: "Chimney Rock Dam." A small arrow points to the right.

What the sign doesn't tell you is how that cement slab ended up there.

Nick Cote / KUNC/LightHawk

Update 12/20 9:07 a.m.: This story was updated to include comments from Denver Water. 

A handful of environmental groups have filed a lawsuit to halt construction on an expansion of Gross Dam in the Boulder County foothills.

Denver Water is proposing to increase the dam’s height by more than 130 feet to store more water from the Colorado River’s headwaters in the reservoir. The suit filed in Denver’s U.S. District Court alleges the construction project would negatively affect the Colorado River, harming native, endangered fish. The suit also argues the proposal runs afoul of the Clean Water Act.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

On stage in a conference room at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace, Keith Moses said coming to terms with the limits of the Colorado River is like losing a loved one.

"It reminds me of the seven stages of grief," Moses said. "Because I think we've been in denial for a long time."

Moses is vice chairman of the Colorado River Indian Tribes, a group of four tribes near Parker, Arizona. He was speaking at the annual Colorado River Water Users Association meeting.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

LAS VEGAS -- Water leaders throughout the West now have a hard deadline to finish deals that would keep the Colorado River’s biggest reservoirs from dropping to deadpool levels.

The nation’s top water official is giving leaders of the seven states that rely on the Colorado River until January 31, 2019 to finalize a Drought Contingency Plan. The combination of multi-state agreements would change how reservoirs are operated and force earlier water cutbacks within the river’s lower basin states of Arizona, California and Nevada as reservoirs drop.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

A first-of-its-kind cloud seeding program has started in the mountains of southern Wyoming and could soon be coming to Colorado.

Both states already seed clouds from land-based towers. The practice of spraying silver iodide or other chemicals into winter storm clouds to get them to drop more snow isn’t new, but using aircraft is.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

This week two Republican members of Colorado’s congressional delegation -- Sen. Cory Gardner and Rep. Scott Tipton -- introduced a bill to create a pilot program for so-called “good Samaritans” who want to clean up the country’s abandoned mines.  

Luke Runyon / KUNC/LightHawk

The effects of climate change are not far off problems for future generations. They are existential problems for everyone alive today.

That’s one big takeaway from the U.S. federal government’s latest roundup of climate science, the National Climate Assessment, now in its fourth iteration.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Early season snowfall in some parts of the Colorado River Basin have raised hopes of a drought recovery. But that optimism is likely premature.

In Colorado, higher than average snowfall in October and early November has allowed ski resorts to open early after a dismal start to last year’s season.

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