The historic megadrought in the western United States, compounded by human-caused climate change, has curtailed the flow of the Colorado River to critical levels with no relief in sight. However, keen observers predicted this situation over a century ago, so how did we end up here?
Listen in as Ten Across founder Duke Reiter talks to water experts Anne Castle and John Fleck about the history and future of the Colorado River including the 40 million people and 5 million acres of farmland that rely on its diminishing water supply.
Anne Castle is a senior fellow at the Getches-Wilkinson Center for Natural Resources, Energy, and the Environment at the University of Colorado Law School. From 2009 to 2014, she was Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the U.S. Department of the Interior where she oversaw water and science policy for the Department and had responsibility for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the U.S. Geological Survey. She previously practiced water law for many years with the Rocky Mountain law firm of Holland & Hart.
UNAWEEP DIVIDE — The honey bees are over there, by the organic garden. The peregrines nest up on the cliffs. A mess of metates — Native American grinding stones — are over in the dense pinion. Every winter the elk gather in the meadow below the granite cliffs. There’s a table up in those cliffs, for “sunset dinner on the rocks,” said Paul Ashcraft.
A few months ago, Ashcraft and several of his neighbors at the highest point in Unaweep Canyon saw a plan proposed by Xcel Energy to build a hydro power plant that will help the company reach its renewable energy goals. The plan put a 75-foot dam holding back the edge of an 88-acre reservoir in Ashcraft’s front yard. The proposal also puts his neighbors’ homes and Colorado 141 underwater.
When James “KG” Kagambi was 23, he climbed Mount Kenya in his homeland, the second tallest peak in Africa — and swore he’d never do it again. “I hated it,” he recalls. “By the time I got to 15,000 feet, I had headaches.” But then he encountered a magical substance for the first time. “I just loved snow. I touched it and knew that I like this. I was looking back [at the summit] and saying, ‘You know what? I want to go back there right now.’ After that, I couldn’t stop.”
He soon left his job as a geography, music, and physical education teacher of grades 5 through 8. And for 39years, Kagambi has climbed the peaks of the world. He’s summited Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania “so many zillion times,” Denali twice, and Aconcagua (the highest peak in the Americas), among others. He’s taught mountaineering from Patagonia to the Rockies, and he’s trained climbers and guides the world over. Then, in 2020, he was invited to join the first all-Black climbing team to summit Mount Everest.
Snowpack and drought levels comparable to fire-plagued summers of 2002, 2018
Southern Colorado’s snowpack is already on its last legs, reaching levels for this point in May only seen twice in the past 20 years – 2002 and 2018, which were both marked by large and destructive wildfires and widespread drought.
DENVER – Southern Colorado’s snowpack is already on its last legs, reaching levels for this point in May only seen twice in the past 20 years – 2002 and 2018, which were both marked by large and destructive wildfires and widespread drought.
The Upper Rio Grande basin was at just 9% of median levels Thursday compared to the past 30 years – with just 0.6 inches of snow-water equivalent (SWE) remaining, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.
The water in Lake Powell, one of the nation’s largest reservoirs, has fallen so low amid the Western drought that federal officials are resorting to emergency measures to avoid shutting down hydroelectric power at the Glen Canyon Dam.
The Arizona dam, which provides electricity to seven states, isn’t the only U.S. hydropower plant in trouble.
In the Northeast, a different kind of climate change problem has affected hydropower dams – too much rainfall all at once.
The United States has over 2,100 operational hydroelectric dams, with locations in nearly every state. They play essential roles in their regional power grids. But most were built in the past century under a different climate than they face today.
As global temperatures rise and the climate continues to change, competition for water will increase, and the way hydropower supply is managed within regions and across the power grid in the U.S. will have to evolve. Westudy the nation’s hydropower production at a systems level as engineers. Here are three key things to understand about one of the nation’s oldest sources of renewable energy in a changing climate.
Another famous piece Life Underground (2004), inside the 14th Street-Eighth Avenue Station in New York, depicts small bronze figures engaged in various tasks. His cartoonish bronze figures have political undertones, often alluding to issues of money, sex, and class. “It’s a simple language; it’s a cartoon language; it’s smiley, button faces,” the artist said. “People aren’t thrown off by a language they don’t understand.”