Two years ago, a wildfire started burning in Colorado’s Arapaho National Forest. Fanned by high winds and parched conditions, the East Troublesome fire raced up the slopes of the Rocky Mountains, at one point crossing over the Continental Divide amid 12,000-foot-tall peaks. It would become the second largest wildfire in state history, and it happened to start on the same October day that another fire to the northeast, the Cameron Peak fire, would be crowned Colorado’s largest ever fire.
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There’s something familiar about the high stakes water use drama playing out in the U.S. Southwest.
The mighty Colorado River serves as an economic artery of the region, powering massive hydroelectric dams and supplying water to farmers and rapidly growing cities across the region. But continued overuse during a massive yearslong megadrought—the driest stretch the area has experienced in more than a millennia—has caused water reservoir levels to fall to unprecedented lows, imperiling water supplies and the operation of crucial power plants.
Michael Jones ducked under an idle sprinkler and strode across the sandy soil where he planned to plant drought-resistant crops, hoping to save water amid the driest period in more than 1,200 years.
For the fourth-generation grower, sowing fewer, higher-value plants on this tiny organic farm was borne out of necessity: In 2018, his irrigation ditches ran dry. Farmers in Colorado’s San Luis Valley rely on such ditches, which are fed by snowmelt and rain that run into cottonwood lined creeks that flow out of two towering mountain ranges, the Sangre de Cristos and the San Juans. But that snowmelt dropped by 40 percent over the last four decades. The six-county region is now among the harshest places to farm in the West. Federal officials designated it a disaster area in April due to its extremely arid conditions
States in the Colorado River basin are scrambling to propose steep cuts in the water they’ll use from the river next year, in response to a call by the federal government for immediate, drastic efforts to keep the river’s main storage reservoirs from reaching critically low levels.
A race to meet state climate goals — and to get expiring federal tax credits along the way — has led to a flurry of wind and solar activity.
Seventy percent of Colorado’s homes burn gas for heating. Although burning fossil fuels like gas is the primary cause of the continued heating of the earth’s climate, this figure represents more than just a climate problem. It is also a major threat to our health and a substantial factor in the worsening air pollution crisis in Denver and the northern Front Range.
Serving as the “lifeline of the Southwest,” and one of the most heavily regulated rivers in the world, the Colorado River provides water to 35 million people and more than 4 million acres of farmland in a region encompassing some 246,000 square miles.
The Biden administration on Thursday gave final approval to a 416-mile electric transmission line that will help connect more wind and solar energy to the Western U.S. grid.
It is a powerhouse: a 1,450-mile waterway that stretches from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez, serving 40 million people in seven U.S. states, 30 federally recognized tribes and Mexico. It hydrates 5 million acres of agricultural land and provides critical habitat for rare fish, birds and plants.
A time-lapse image of smoke from wildfires in New Mexico and dust from a storm in Colorado illustrates the scope of Western catastrophe. The video is mesmerizing: As three whitish-gray geysers gush eastward from the mountains of New Mexico, a sheet of brown spills down from the north like swash on a beach.