KUNC

When it comes to water in the West, a lot of it is visible. Snow stacks up high in the mountains then eventually melts and flows down into valleys. It’s easy to see how heavy rains and rushing rivers translate into an abundance of available water. But another important factor of water availability is much harder to see.

Beneath the surface, the amount of moisture held in the ground can play a big role in how much water makes it down to rivers and reservoirs – and eventually into the pipes that feed homes and businesses.

The Fort Yuma-Quechan Indian Tribe is situated at a nexus in the Colorado River Basin.

That’s true in a geographic sense. The tribe’s reservation overlays the Arizona-California border near Yuma, Arizona. The two states are heavily reliant on water from the Colorado River.

A showdown is looming on the Colorado River. The river’s existing management guidelines are set to expire in 2026. The states that draw water from it are about to undertake a new round of negotiations over the river’s future, while it’s facing worsening dry conditions due in part to rising temperatures.

This weekend’s snowstorm will likely translate to significant drought relief for portions of Colorado, while others remain mired in drier than average conditions.

Snow that blanketed the northern Front Range and northeastern plains will provide two to three inches of liquid water when it melts. Some localized areas are seeing even higher amounts ranging from four to five inches of water held in the snow, said Colorado’s assistant state climatologist Becky Bolinger.

“I do think we’re going to see clear improvements all along the Front Range from this event,” Bolinger said.

Colorado has shuffled its COVID-19 vaccine distribution plan once again.

Starting March 5, the state will start offering doses to grocery store workers, Coloradans ages 60-64, agriculture workers and all residents over 16 who have two or more pre-existing conditions that put them at higher risk from the virus.

Gov. Jared Polis said the new phase will encompass almost 1 million people.

The city of Greeley wants to keep growing, and it needs water to do so.

Over the last couple years, city leaders have focused their energy on testing and developing an underground water supply to make that growth possible. The Terry Ranch project, estimated to cost upwards of $318 million to fully build out, would give the city access to an untapped water source — a rarity on the fast-growing, water-tight Front Range.

As Colorado embarks on an effort to reintroduce gray wolves, two competing packs are starting to form.

One wants to run, and the other wants to walk.

Gov. Jared Polis is leading the pack wanting to speed up the process, saying wolves “take care of themselves” and will be easier to release into the landscape than other animals Colorado has already brought back, including the Canada lynx and the black-footed ferret.

Polis says he has already lined up the first batch.

Dry conditions are the worst they’ve been in almost 20 years across the Colorado River watershed, which acts as the drinking and irrigation water supply for 40 million people in the American Southwest.

As the latest round of federal forecasts for the river’s flow shows, it’s plausible, maybe even likely, that the situation could get much worse this year.

Colorado lawmakers started a legislative session on Wednesday that will be defined in its early days by a raging pandemic and a heightened sense of unrest following a deadly attack on the U.S. Capitol.

There were more police on hand than usual for a session kickoff a week after extremists stormed the U.S. Capitol, resulting in the deaths of five people. Colorado state troopers on bicycles circled the outside of the building, while three troopers stood guard at one point outside the House Chamber.

For decades, the opening day of Colorado’s legislative session has usually been full of hugs, flowers, speeches and celebrations.

But due to the coronavirus pandemic and new fears raised by last week’s deadly attack at the U.S. Capitol, this Wednesday’s kickoff will be short, and subdued.

There might also be an increased police presence after a warning from the FBI about potential armed protests at state Capitols around the country.

Following confusion and frustration this week over the COVID-19 vaccine rollout to seniors in Colorado, Gov. Jared Polis held a news conference Wednesday to talk about how residents ages 70 and up can try to gain access.

Polis said hospitals are launching new online portals for seniors to get the vaccine, but supplies are limited and many providers are randomly sending out invites.

Polis also defended his decision to announce the start of vaccinations for this age group last week before many health care providers were ready to offer it.

Government workers in Colorado are busy this month building the new websites and application forms that will let residents get their share of more than $240 million in coronavirus relief approved by lawmakers during a special session.

“This stuff is working at breakneck speed, so we’re working as quickly as we can to get this up,” said Brett McPherson, a spokesman for the Department of Local Affairs.

The general public will probably have to wait until summer 2021 to get a coronavirus vaccine, according to a new distribution plan Gov. Jared Polis and top public health officials unveiled on Wednesday.

The plan includes three phases. Hospital workers who treat COVID-19 patients, nursing home residents and their caretakers are first in line for the vaccine, which could arrive as soon as Monday.

Colorado lawmakers passed a state-funded stimulus package worth more than $200 million during a three-day special session that stayed mostly cordial and bipartisan.

They also gave Gov. Jared Polis an additional $100 million to respond to the pandemic and rejected Republican lawmakers’ attempts to limit Polis’ power to issue more executive orders during the virus outbreak.

Lawmakers stressed the stimulus package is far short of what the federal government could provide.

Colorado voters have decided to bring back a wild animal that was eradicated from the state in the 1940s because of the threats it posed to livestock and ranchers’ livelihoods.

But don’t expect to hear a gray wolf howl on Colorado’s West Slope just yet.

Following the narrow passage of Proposition 114, Colorado Parks and Wildlife will now spend the next three years coming up with a plan for how to reintroduce the animals by 2023.

The planning process will include public hearings to help determine how many wolves will be released in Colorado, and where.

Colorado voters have narrowly endorsed a movement to change the way the United States picks its presidents.

With the passage of Proposition 113, Colorado will stay in the so-called National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.

The initiative consists of a group of states wanting to award all their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who wins the most votes nationwide.

Updated at 9:15 a.m. on 11/4/2020

Colorado voters rejected a measure that would have prevented women from getting an abortion after 22 weeks of pregnancy unless the procedure was needed to save the woman's life.

Proposition 115 failed 59% to 41% with 85% of votes tallied as of Wednesday morning.

As a result, Colorado will remain one of seven states in the country without restrictions on abortions.

Colorado workers who need paid time off to care for a newborn or a sick relative are one step closer to having access to such a benefit after voters passed Proposition 118.

The measure, which was winning 57.09% to 42.91% will create a new statewide leave program allowing all Colorado workers to take up to 12 weeks off for a number of medical reasons while still collecting most of their paycheck.

Starting in 2023, workers and their employers will begin paying premiums each month for the benefit, which won’t start until 2024.

Boosted by the state’s deep disapproval of President Donald Trump, former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper defeated incumbent Sen. Cory Gardner and flipped a U.S. Senate seat in Colorado.

Hickenlooper, a two-term governor who led the state through floods, wildfires and the mass shooting at a movie theater in Aurora, ran a campaign largely focused on criticizing Gardner for supporting Trump and attempting to overturn the Affordable Care Act.

Republican U.S. Sen. Cory Gardner and former Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper spent more than three hours together in recent weeks trading attacks and making their pitches to voters. If you didn’t watch all three of their debates, here are some of the main takeaways to catch up on.

Lagging in the polls, Gardner is trying to make the race about character.

For many communities in the West, the water that flows out of kitchen faucets and bathroom showerheads starts high up in the mountains, as snowpack tucked under canopies of spruce and pine trees.

This summer’s record-breaking wildfires have reduced some of those headwater forests to burnt trees and heaps of ash. In high alpine ecosystems, climate change has tipped the scales toward drier forests, lessened snowpack, hotter summers and extended fire seasons.

Major wildfires have burned through the Western U.S. in 2020, breaking records for their scale and damage. As firefighters tamp down their immediate effects, those who live nearby are coming to grips with the lingering danger of wildfires. Even long after the flames are gone, residents face a serious increase in the threat of flooding.

Giuliana Day says the 22nd week of a woman’s pregnancy is an important milestone.

“That is over five months into the pregnancy when a baby is fully formed and is a fully alive human being, and we treat them like a human being,” Day said.

It’s also when Day says a fetus can survive outside the womb. Its why she says she is leading an effort to stop abortions after this phase unless the mother’s life is at risk because of her pregnancy. Day’s effort to get Proposition 115 on the ballot was boosted by several Catholic churches, which helped circulate petitions.

National Park Service hydrologist Erin White likes to call Yellowstone “America’s first water park.”

It’s home to the headwaters of multiple major rivers and hundreds of waterfalls. Thousands of geysers, mudpots, and hot springs—heated by an underground supervolcano—gush, bubble, and boil in the national park’s 2.2 million acres, too.

Of the 11 ballot questions Colorado voters will decide in November, Amendment B is by far the most complicated. It seeks to repeal a 38-year-old state law affecting how much residents must pay in property taxes.

If you own a home or commercial property, your bank account has been affected by the Gallagher Amendment in some way. Voters approved the amendment in 1982 to put more of the property tax burden on businesses, which must pay 55% of the state’s property taxes. Meanwhile, homeowners pay 45%.

Dan Thompson says he has seen wolves at their best, and their worst.

As the big carnivore supervisor for Wyoming Fish and Game, Thompson has gotten to step within a few feet of a wolf after biologists prepared to tranquilize the animal in a trap.

“Just to see that yellow in the eyes and that little bark and howl, I mean, it kind of penetrates your soul quite honestly,” Thompson said last month from his home in Lander, Wyoming.

But on the flip side, Thompson says he has seen a more unflattering side of wolves.

Democrats at the state Capitol have tried for several years to create a paid family and medical leave program, but concerns from small businesses and Gov. Jared Polis have kept it from becoming law.

Now the political battle is moving from the state Capitol to the ballot box, where voters will have the final say.

Kris Garcia, who has spent more than a decade advocating for stronger paid leave benefits, is attending virtual rallies and sharing his story about what life is like without family and medical leave programs.

The Colorado River’s largest reservoirs are expected to keep struggling over the next five years due to climate change, according to the federal agency that oversees them.

The Bureau of Reclamation’s new modeling projections, which include this year’s record-breaking heat and dryness in some parts of the southwestern watershed, show an increasing likelihood of an official shortage declaration before 2026.

State Rep. Jeni Arndt joined a very exclusive club in the world of Colorado politics last year when one of her bills became so controversial, it triggered the first statewide referendum since 1932.

“I got a lot of feedback (on the bill) … some death threats,” Arndt said of her bill to put Colorado in the National Popular Vote Compact, a growing group of states that want to award their electoral votes to the presidential candidate who gets the most votes nationwide.

Luke Runyon/KUNC

Many communities in the West are growing, and in some places that’s putting pressure on already scarce water supplies.

That’s the case in northern Colorado, where a proposed set of reservoirs promises to allow small suburbs to keep getting bigger. The project, called the Northern Integrated Supply Project (NISP), has stirred up a familiar debate over how the West grows, and whether water should be a limiting factor.

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