Water

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Rural Tulare County, Calif., is now being called the epicenter of this drought.

That's because at least 1,300 residential wells have run dry, affecting at least 7,000 people. When your taps start spitting out air here, Paul Boyer and his team are who you call.

Under a punishing midafternoon sun, Boyer helps muscle down five of these hefty 400-pound water tanks from a semi-truck flatbed. He helps run a local nonprofit that's in charge of distributing these 2,500-gallon water tanks to drought victims.

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The Environmental Protection Agency says it has found no evidence that hydraulic fracturing — better known as fracking — has led to widespread pollution of drinking water. The oil industry and its backers welcome the long-awaited study, while environmental groups criticize it.

Rudy Mussi is not the California farmer you've been hearing about. He is not fallowing all his fields or ripping up his orchards due to a lack irrigation water.

For Mussi and most of his neighbors in the bucolic Sacramento Delta, the water is still flowing reliably from the pumps and into the canals lining the fields.

"If you had to pick a place where you would say, 'Okay, where should I stick my farm?' You'd come to the Delta," he says.

Colorado has experienced massive population growth in the last few years, a that trend is projected to continue. Finding enough water to meet the demands of the booming Front Range has city planners closely looking at how new developments can be built with conservation as a key component.

"The 2040 forecast for Colorado is about 7.8 million people, increasing from about 5 million in 2010," said Elizabeth Garner, the state demographer. "How will we deal with it? Where will we put them? How will we provide water resources and other resources, whether it takes 20, 30, 40, 50 years to get there?"

The Obama administration announced new clean water rules Wednesday that it says will protect sources of drinking water for 117 million Americans, rules welcomed by environmental groups, but bitterly opposed by congressional Republicans and farm state democrats.

The rules clarify which waterways fall under the Clean Water Act.

President Obama, in a statement released by the White House, said that in recent years:

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Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

In the 19th century, before Americans fully settled the West, some called it the Great American Desert. It wasn't considered fertile enough to develop.

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

dry river bed, drought
flickr.com/markallanson

  

Tonight at  six on KVNF, Paonia-based environmental magazine High Country News will host a live discussion on megadrought. 

CLICK HERE FOR THE LIVE STREAM AT 6 PM MDT.

KVNF's Laura Palmisano talks to High Country News Associate Editor Brian Calvert about the event. 

The water outlook in drought-racked California just got a lot worse: Snowpack levels across the entire Sierra Nevada are now the lowest in recorded history — just 6 percent of the long-term average. That shatters the previous low record on this date of 25 percent, set in 1977 and again last year.

The message from park rangers, amateur metal detectors and regular fisherman at California's Lake Perris is unanimous: The water is lower than they've ever seen it.

Coloradoans pride themselves on the quality of their drinking water, most of which originates high up in the Rocky Mountains. On the Eastern Plains though, many communities have water that not only tastes bad, it's out of compliance with federal drinking water standards.

At the J and L Cafe in downtown Sterling you'll find diners sipping glasses of tap water as they enjoy lunch. Just a year ago, that wasn't the case.

"You couldn't hardly drink it," said diner Kathy Orchid, she never used to drink the tap water. "It's much better [now]."

Just when we thought craft beer couldn't get any zanier, we learn that Oregonians want to make it with treated wastewater.

Clean Water Services of Hillsboro says it has an advanced treatment process that can turn sewage into drinking water. The company, which runs four wastewater treatment plants in the Portland metro area, wants to show off its "high-purity" system by turning recycled wastewater into beer.

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state's first ever water plan Wednesday. The goal of the plan - a decade in the making - is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.

"Water is too important for bickering and potential failure. It demands collaborations," said James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the proposal. "This plan sets the stage for us to take the necessary next steps."

Still No Fluoride

Dec 3, 2014
Flickr user smanography

If you live between Ridgway and Delta, there’s been a change to your drinking water, although you might not notice until your next dentist appointment.

Ask Northern California sheep rancher Dan Macon what this drought is doing to his pocketbook and he'll break it down for you real quick.

"It's like if you woke up one morning and lost 40 percent of the equity in your house," he says. "Our primary investment in our ranch is in these sheep and we just sold 40 percent of our stock."

The past few years have been California's driest on record. Forecasters predict that punishing droughts like the current one could become the new norm.

The state uses water rationing and a 90-year-old water distribution system to cope until the rains come. The system is a huge network of dams, canals and pipes that move water from the places it rains and snows to places it typically doesn't, like farms and cities.

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Imagine flushing the toilet and watching sand come up. That's what happened to Pam Vieira, who lives south of Modesto, Calif. Her water well has slowed to a trickle, and you can see the sand in the tank of her toilet.

"Sometimes we have brown water," Vieira says. "Sometimes we have no water."

Vieira is one of as many as 2 million rural California residents who rely on private domestic wells for drinking water.

Some of those people are among the hardest hit by the state's severe drought, as wells across the state's Central Valley farm belt start to go dry.

Joshua M via Flickr (CC-BY)

With monsoon season passing us, it might be easy to forget that Colorado and the entire Colorado River are in the middle of a long drought.  14 years long. 

NOTE: In the on-air version of this story we incorrectly stated the date of a U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announcement about Colorado River cut-backs to lower basin states. That announcement happened in 2013, not this year. (8/26/14)

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced this month water releases from Lake Powell to Lake Mead will increase next year, after historically low releases in 2014. Lake Mead has reached record low levels this summer. The Colorado River supplies these large reservoirs. At a water conference in Snowmass Village last week, drought and the Colorado River were discussed. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

The northern arm of the Rocky Mountains is sometimes called "the crown of the continent," and its jewels are glaciers and snowfields that irrigate large parts of North America during spring thaw.

But the region is getting warmer, even faster than the rest of the world. Scientists now say warming is scrambling the complex relationship between water and nature and could threaten some species with extinction as well as bring hardship to ranchers and farmers already suffering from prolonged drought.

Much of the American West is suffering from extreme drought this year. California is running out of water and wildfires have raged through Washington, Oregon and Idaho. But there is a bright spot out West — or, rather, a green spot. In New Mexico, unusually heavy late-summer rains have transformed the landscape.

It's a remarkable sight. The high desert is normally the color of baked pie crust; now, it's emerald.

Kirt Kempter, a geologist who lives in Santa Fe, says this transformation is far from ordinary.

The drought-stricken Colorado River Basin is drying up faster than was thought, according to a recent study. 

NASA and the University of California, Irvine used satellite data gathered over a nine year period to track changes in the mass of the Colorado River Basin that has been experiencing severe drought since 2000.    

The scientists looked at monthly measurements between December 2004 and November 2013. They found the basin lost nearly 53 million acre feet of freshwater, that's nearly double the volume of Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir, during that period. The study said about 41 million acre feet of that lost water was groundwater.  

The basin provides water to millions of people in seven Western states: Wyoming, Utah, Nevada, California, Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado. It also supplies water to roughly four million acres of farmland. 

For a few weeks this spring, the Colorado River flowed all the way to the sea for the first time in a half a century. And during that window of opportunity, writer Rowan Jacobsen took the paddleboarding trip of a lifetime.

The river starts in the Rocky Mountains, and for more than 1,400 miles, it wends its way south. Along the way it's dammed and diverted dozens of times, to cities and fields all over the American West. Tens of millions of people depend on the river as a water source.

North Fork of the Gunnison
Laura Palmisano.

The North Fork of the Gunnison River flows through southwestern Colorado. It’s a waterway the feeds into the Gunnison River, a tributary of the Colorado River, which supplies drinking water to millions of people in the West.

This winter’s mega snowpack in the mountains is melting and filling reservoirs and rivers around the state. For whitewater rafting companies the big flows are good for thrills. But, some stretches are river are too full to float. Aspen Public Radio's Marci Krivonen reports.

Longtime rafting guide Bob Morse is giving his safety spiel to a small group preparing to board a bright yellow raft. For some, it’s their first time rafting.

Jessica Reeder via Flickr (CC BY creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/)

Some Paonia residents recently received a letter from the town with a header that read (in all caps and red text): “Important information about your drinking water.”

The letter explains that part of the town’s water supply isn’t meeting some treatment requirements. But according to Mayor Neal Schwieterman, the water’s still safe, and residents don’t need to worry.  

We spoke with Schwieterman about what exactly this letter means, and why it was sent in the first place. 

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