Rain & Shine: Water Cycles

Sep 14, 2020

The Gunnison River
Credit Kori Stanton

The way we manage water has largely been focused on quantity and quality. This has led to a scarcity mentality where we are faced with there not being “enough” water immediately available. When we step back and look at the way water moves throughout the planet-in large and small water cycles- we can begin to see that all the water there is, is still there.

Water moves throughout the planet in large and small cycles continually recycling and recirculating. The path that water takes in our part of the world begins in the mountains. With their high peaks and cooler temperatures they cause moisture in the atmosphere to form into rain and snow. Snow builds up over the winters and then melts in warmer weather traveling in many revilets down the mountains and then joining together to form streams and rivers. All the water in our “watershed” flows into the Colorado River. Which in turn flows down through the southwest and (when we allow it to) eventually reaches the sea. Sunlight and warmth cause evaporation over the oceans and that moisture forms clouds and weather systems that travel back from the oceans to the mountains where the cycle begins again. 

Man made climate change has shortened our snow season here in the Rockies and this has significant impacts on the timing and duration of our big water cycle. Downstream, dams and irrigation and cities have taken water from the rivers leaving very little to reach the sea. If we think about how this big cycle brings water to everyone along its way we can also start to think about ways to keep it healthy and active.

CITATIONS & RESOURCES
Colorado Water, Live it Love it https://lovecoloradowater.org/
Colorado River flow dwindles as warming-driven loss of reflective snow energizes evaporation Science  13 Mar 2020: Vol. 367, Issue 6483, pp. 1252-1255. DOI: 10.1126/science.aay9187