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

CIÉNEGA DE SANTA CLARA, MEXICO — Juan Butrón-Méndez navigates a small metal motorboat through a maze of tall reeds here in the Mexican state of Sonora. It’s nearing sunset, and the sky is turning shades of light blue and purple.

The air smells of wet earth, an unfamiliar scent in the desert.

Luke Runyon / KUNC/LightHawk

SAN LUIS RIO COLORADO, MEXICO — From inside a small airplane, tracing the Colorado River along the Arizona-California border, it’s easy to see how it happened.

As the river bends and weaves through the American Southwest, its contents are slowly drained. Concrete canals send water to millions of people in Phoenix and Tucson, Los Angeles and San Diego. Farms, ribbons of green contrasted against the desert’s shades of brown, line the waterway.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

Water leaders from the seven states that make up the Colorado River basin are one step closer to finalizing a drought contingency plan. Representatives from Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California and Arizona met in Phoenix Tuesday to sign a letter to Congress asking for federal approval of the plan.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

High snowpack in the southern Rocky Mountains this winter will likely stave off a shortage declaration in the Colorado River watershed in 2020, relieving pressure on water managers attempting to navigate future scarcity.

New data from U.S. Bureau of Reclamation models show a lessened risk of a key Colorado River reservoir dropping far enough to trigger a first-ever shortage declaration. Snowpack in the Upper Colorado River Basin is at 138 percent of the long-term median, a level not seen in mid-March since 1997.

Paonia's Water Returns, Boil Order Remains

Mar 6, 2019
Photo courtesy of Kori Stanton

Water is again flowing through faucets in the Western Slope town of Paonia.

Town administrator Ken Knight told residents at a meeting Tuesday evening enough water is being treated and kept in storage to return service to the more than 1,500 people who rely on the town for drinking water. Some residents have been without drinkable tap water for nearly two weeks after officials discovered leaks in water pipes.

Northforker / CC BY-SA 3.0

When Paonia resident Jon Howard went turn on the dishwasher last Friday morning, there was no water to clean the dishes.

Same thing when he went to the bathroom, wanted to take a shower or fill up a glass from the kitchen sink.

Luke Runyon / KUNC

The last day of January was looking like a banner day for Arizona's water planning. State lawmakers had passed legislation authorizing Arizona to enter into an important deal. Governor Doug Ducey signed the bills almost immediately.

Lake Powell
Luke Runyon / KUNC / LightHawk

States that rely on the Colorado River for their water supplies are currently unable to finish a series of agreements that would keep its biggest reservoirs, Lake Mead and Lake Powell, from dropping to levels not seen since they were filled decades ago.

Five states — Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Wyoming and Nevada — are done. The country of Mexico has also completed its portion. But California and Arizona failed to meet a Jan. 31 federal government deadline to wrap up negotiations and sign a final agreement.

Eric Hjermstad
Luke Runyon / KUNC

Each winter, anxious water managers, farmers and city leaders in the American Southwest turn their eyes toward the snowy peaks of the southern Rocky Mountains.

The piling snow is a massive frozen reservoir, and its depth and weight can foreshadow the year ahead. Millions of dollars are spent divining what a heavy or light snowpack means for the region's reservoirs, for its booming cities, for its arid farmland.

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.

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