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The Water Desk

60 days and counting: Colorado River cutbacks achievable, experts say, as long as farm interests are on board

Colorado River Basin states will succeed in complying with an emergency federal order that came just last week to slash water use by millions of acre-feet, experts said, but it will take time plus major deals with farm interests and tribal communities, and will likely require that the basin, whose flows and operational structure were divided by the 1922 Colorado River Compact, be united and managed as one entity.
COLORADO STATE
Picture for 60 days and counting: Colorado River cutbacks achievable, experts say, as long as farm interests are on board
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Declining levels at Lake Powell increase risk to humpback chub downstream

As climate change continues to shrink the nation’s second-largest reservoir, water managers are scrambling to prevent the release of an invasive fish into the Grand Canyon. Smallmouth bass, a voracious predator and popular game fish, have been introduced into reservoirs throughout the Colorado River basin, including Lake Powell. The looming problem now is that as lake levels drop to historically low levels, the invasive fish are likely to escape beyond Glen Canyon Dam, threatening endangered fish in the canyon, whose populations have rebounded in recent years.
SCIENCE

Pitkin County agrees to fund ditch piping project

The Pitkin County Board of County Commissioners has approved one year of funding toward completing a ditch piping project with the aim of keeping more water in Hunter Creek. Over the past two decades, the Red Mountain Ditch Company has been working to pipe the entirety of its 12-mile ditch system — a $3.8 million cost so far — paid for by the ditch share owners. But to complete the final 3,600 feet, the ditch company is turning to public sources of money because they say the project will have the public benefit of keeping between 0.5 and 1 additional cubic feet per second of water in Hunter Creek.
PITKIN COUNTY, CO

Two Southwest tribes raise concerns over uranium storage

In White Mesa, Utah, at America’s last uranium mill, a pool of toxic waste is emitting dangerous amounts of radon to the surrounding communities, among them the Ute Mountain Ute Tribe. This isn’t news: In November 2021, High Country News reported on the improperly stored waste and its impacts on the community, and in December — thanks to EcoFlight’s aerial photography and a proactive tribal government — the Environmental Protection Agency issued a notice to Energy Fuels Resources, ordering it to address the issue. Five months later, however, the improper storage practices persist.
WHITE MESA, UT

Rivers can suddenly change course – scientists used 50 years of satellite images to learn where and how it happens

Throughout history, important cities around the world have flourished along river banks. But rivers can also be destructive forces. They routinely flood, and on rare occasions, they can abruptly shift pathways. These “channel-jumping” events, which are called avulsions, have caused some of the deadliest floods in human history. Avulsions on...
SCIENCE

Powell’s looming power problem

Thirty-nine years ago, due to record-breaking snowfall in the Upper Colorado River Basin, Lake Powell rose substantially, catching river managers off-guard. By late June, the reservoir was nearly overflowing, forcing operators — for the first time ever — to rely on the spillways. Instead of giving relief, that precipitated a new crisis, as a phenomenon called cavitation sent shockwaves through the spillways’ innards, tearing through the concrete and then the sandstone, putting the colossal Glen Canyon Dam in peril.
ENERGY INDUSTRY

Early peak runoff for Western Slope rivers

Rivers in western Colorado have already peaked for the season, creating challenging conditions for reservoir managers and rafting companies. Fueled by spring windstorms that deposited snow-devouring dust on the mountain snowpack, most streams saw their peak flows between May 19 and 21 for this year, according to data from the Colorado Basin River Forecast Center.
COLORADO STATE

What should farmers grow in the desert?

This story was originally published by The Food and Environment Reporting Network and also republished by Mother Jones as part of the Climate Desk collaboration. This story was supported by the Water Desk’s grant programs. Read more grantee stories ». On a spring day that would have seemed abnormally...
AGRICULTURE

What is dead pool? A water expert explains

Journalists reporting on the status and future of the Colorado River are increasingly using the phrase “dead pool.” It sounds ominous. And it is. Dead pool occurs when water in a reservoir drops so low that it can’t flow downstream from the dam. The biggest concerns are Lake Powell, behind Glen Canyon Dam on the Utah-Arizona border, and Lake Mead, behind Hoover Dam on the Nevada-Arizona border. These two reservoirs, the largest in the U.S., provide water for drinking and irrigation and hydroelectricity to millions of people in Nevada, Arizona and California.
COLORADO STATE
The Water Desk

Turf replacement, wildfire, groundwater sustainability funding among water wins as Colorado legislative session ends

The Colorado General Assembly adjourned its 2022 session on May 11. Among the water bills that passed, four share a common theme—funding. A rare confluence of new revenue sources led to strong bipartisan support of bills dealing with groundwater compact compliance and sustainability, state water plan projects, wildfire mitigation and watershed restoration, and urban turf replacement. A bill designed to strengthen Colorado’s water speculation laws failed.