After Decades Of Warming And Drying, The Colorado River Struggles To Water The West
Speaker 1: 00:00 The Colorado river is tapped out. It supplies 40 million people in the Southwest, including in San Diego county, but a prolonged warming and drying trend has left the nation's two largest reservoirs at record lows. For the first time, a shortage will be declared by the federal government, Luke Runyon from K UNC traveled 1400 miles of the river to get a sense of how those who rely on it are coping. Speaker 2: 00:26 The river starts on Colorado's Western slope, where father and son Wayne and bracket Pollard run cattle up on a sagebrush covered hillside. We looked down into the rifle valley where the men use the rivers water to grow here. Speaker 3: 00:40 Typically it would be high water and it hasn't really come up at all. Speaker 2: 00:44 No, they list off all the [inaudible] that come with life in the west. This year, driest hottest lowest worst. Last Speaker 3: 00:53 Year was considerably dry. Maybe the dries we'd seen. And now we're looking at even drier. Our Springs are starting to dry up, up on the mountain and everywhere. This Speaker 2: 01:05 Dry spell comes with the usual lack of rain and snow and the relentless sun. And now a hot wind has arrived. Bracket says it's like someone who's pointing a giant hairdryer at his past. It's Speaker 3: 01:17 Just like sucking the moisture out even more. So really Speaker 2: 01:21 All of the upper Colorado river basin is experiencing severe drought or worse. Tributaries are running low and hot and without enough feed, the regions ranchers are looking to sell the Pollards planned to offload about half of their cows over the next few months. Speaker 3: 01:37 And when you're looking at, uh, a serious loss of equity in, in really just rural America in the rural west. Speaker 4: 01:44 So the first couple of miles is going to be really choppy. Speaker 2: 01:52 250 miles downstream. The river becomes a massive reservoir lake Powell where Sherry fastened, Nellie and husband, Randy Redford are vacationing. The reservoir fills Glen canyon, amaze of red rock on the Colorado plateau. The lake is headed toward its lowest point since it was built fastened, veers their speedboat into a side canyon, you Speaker 4: 02:16 Know, places where you've voted for 20 years and gone flying over all of a sudden. Now there's big islands and rocks. Speaker 2: 02:23 Mark White bathtub, bring on the brick colored walls looms over us. The record low-level means its dam is generating less hydroelectric power and it makes for a hair raising boat ride. Speaker 4: 02:35 That's when the canyons getting narrower, then you got to worry about other traffic horns. So it's a little more nerve wracking, Speaker 2: 02:42 An estimated four and a half million people visited in 2019 spending more than $420 million. But this year, several paved boat ramps no longer reached Speaker 4: 02:54 The wall. So you've got the same number of visitors using fewer launch ramps. So you're going to have longer shorter tempers, Speaker 2: 03:02 Further downstream in a Las Vegas gated community, the Colorado river's water spurts out of a sprinkler and onto manicured grass catching the eye of Devin [inaudible] water waste investigator, Speaker 4: 03:15 And there's too much water leaving the property at the moment. So we're going to get out of the car, throw our lights on and document the spray and flow violation is what we call it. Speaker 2: 03:24 Co works for the Las Vegas valley water district. She pulls out her phone to take a video of the offending sprinklers. Speaker 4: 03:32 What a waste investigator 9 3 9 3. It is Tuesday, June 15th at 8 0 7 Speaker 2: 03:37 Grass like this recently got a death sentence this year in Nevada declared so-called nonfunctional turf, illegal lawns that are only ornamental Chilchos agency projects that nearly 4,000 acres of turf in the Las Vegas valley will be ripped out over the next five years. Las Vegas already restricts lawns in new developments and pays homeowners to replace them. Speaker 4: 04:00 So unfortunately we D we are in a desert and grass is one of those high water use Speaker 2: 04:06 What the Las Vegas area has kept growing during the drought adding 315,000 people in the last decade alone as the river keeps shrinking demands have to shrink too. Otherwise the whole system gets drained. Conserving now means less pain down the line [inaudible] says. Speaker 4: 04:24 Um, so all of these restrictions have allowed us as a community to kind of keep populating. I mean, the, the population isn't going anywhere, you know, so we have to kind of accommodate to that coming Speaker 2: 04:35 Shortage. Declaration means another round of steep cuts to water supplies falling. The hardest on Arizona farmers, if reservoirs keep dropping further, reductions are coming to Nevada, California, and Mexico. Speaker 5: 04:49 This used to be the Riverbed near the Speaker 2: 04:52 Rivers end, Jordan Joaquin, president of the Fort Yuma kitchen. Indian tribes stands on its banks, looking out on what used to be the start of the rivers, expansive Delta. Now just a narrow channel. And Speaker 5: 05:03 So where are we standing today? If this was to be watered, this will be all covered with shrubbery, willows, Cottonwood as well. So Speaker 2: 05:11 Not far upstream water is drawn off to serve customers in Los Angeles and Phoenix and to irrigate crops, including local ones says tribal council member, Charles Escalade. Speaker 6: 05:22 So that's why I always tease everybody when they're from back east. I'm like when you're eating a salad in December, thank us because that's where it's coming from. Speaker 2: 05:30 The tribe's share of the Colorado is part of a century long list of legal agreements among those who use it. But Joaquin says in the past tribes were largely excluded when Speaker 5: 05:42 Tribes were consulted, if that's what they call it. And so at the very end decisions were already made. Speaker 2: 05:48 The entire watershed is gearing up for a new round of policy negotiations. Perennial questions are being made more urgent. Can the watershed adapt to climate change? How will everyone get by with less? And Joaquin says, how can river management be made more inclusive? Speaker 5: 06:07 Water is very important to us. You know, waters is sacred to us. So the most meaningful thing is to be part of the negotiation at that table, not the back table of the side table, but at the table of discussion Speaker 2: 06:23 Because the answers to those questions will shape life in the west for everyone who depends on the Colorado river for decades to come. I'm Luke Runyon.