Artwork showing the drought trinity, scientific data about the 3 drought types and map of Grand Junction

Residents of Colorado’s Grand Valley are profoundly lucky to nestle up to the Colorado River, and to receive our drinking water from the largest flattop mountain in the world, the Grand Mesa. However, the ability to drink, grow food and thrive in this arid landscape is dependent on the snowpack that blankets our high Rocky Mountain peaks and the regional climate more broadly. Warming temperatures that produce longer, more intense droughts are threatening our way of life, making it harder to manage water resources and plan for the future. The artwork created in this study reflects a 21st century perspective of natural water supplies in the Upper Colorado River Basin with a focus on three types of drought: meteorological, hydrological and snow.

Truth is, we all need water. The west is especially sensitive to drought and the impacts a lack of water has on our communities.

Art, Science, Place, and Community

Truth is, we all need water. The west is especially sensitive to drought and the impacts a lack of water has on our communities. With a warming climate and prolonged drought in our future, we are stuck on a path of more hardship when it comes to our water needs. The artwork in this series explores three areas of drought: meteorological, hydrological and snow. Each acts as a warning sign for the world that may one day be our reality. With water in the west on a constant decline we must all act and make efforts to lessen our usage so that future generations have the same water access that we do.

In an art + science workshop we explored the contrast of some of our favorite local places with and without water. We examined those feelings of low water and created art that contrasted those feelings with ones of high water. It gave a chance for people to reflect on the issues at hand and openly discuss their fears and hopes for what is to come. Overall participants walked away with more insights into what they can do to minimize water usage and appreciate what we do have in the desert valley.

What you can do to address this issue 

Coping with drought requires knowledge, creativity, and dedicated resources. Below are some simple habit shifts for bettering your relationship to water:

•Find out where your water comes from.
• Turn off the water when brushing teeth, shaving, etc.
• Plant native species and limit water hogging turf.
• Shorten your shower by 2 minutes, and/or stager the frequency.
• Remember the importance of water and your need for it.
•  Be mindful of your energy usage–water is both directly and indirectly needed to generate energy.

Environmental and Social Issues 

Western states have among the most widely known and over-allocated rivers in the world, the mighty Colorado River, once known as the Grand river. Many communities and Tribal Nations living in the Intermountain West, in the Upper Colorado River Basin use the river for drinking water, agriculture, outdoor recreation, municipalities, hydropower generation. Grand Junction is among those communities and the one TJ Smith lives in. Living in Grand Junction has deepened his understanding water needs. The Colorado River level is a general topic of discussion in the area. As residents say, “When it’s low we know”.

Science Integrated into the Artwork

Drought in the Colorado River basin is the focus of this artwork. At its most basic level, drought is simply a lack of water, which can have far-reaching impacts on communities and ecosystems. Several categories of drought are relevant to this artwork. The condition of abnormally low precipitation is termed ‘meteorological drought’ and tends to be the first sign of more prolonged drought conditions to come. A direct cause of low precipitation can be the lack of surface water and runoff, termed ‘hydrological drought’, which directly impacts inflows into reservoirs. Finally, ‘snow drought’ is of importance here, since it describes low snow conditions, which may be due to low precipitation or to high temperatures, which can be disruptive for winter sports, economies, and snow-adapted species. Any projections for warmer or drier climate conditions will exacerbate the impacts from these types of drought.

The artwork shown above is located in the Colorado State Capitol through October 16, 2023.