Hydrology & Water Resources
Hydrology is the science of Earth’s water, in particular how it moves in relation to land. Colorado has a lot of land. And its diversity, from jagged mountains to flat grasslands, makes the study of water in the Western state even more complex.
Colorado is known for its mountains. With an average altitude of about 6,800 feet above sea level, Colorado has the highest average elevation of the 48 contiguous U.S. states. Yet 40% of its land area is relatively flat: the vast Eastern Plains. The lofty Continental Divide, with its snow-capped peaks, splits Colorado approximately in half, creating distinct climate patterns and water-drainage basins. As prevailing winds blow west to east, the state’s mountain ranges condense moisture-rich air into precipitation. This results in as much as 85% of Colorado’s annual precipitation falling west of the Continental Divide. The eastern side of the Rocky Mountains, running from the base of the Rocky Mountain foothills to Colorado’s borders with Kansas and Nebraska, exists in a “rain shadow.” And that’s where a vast majority of Colorado’s population lives, far from Colorado’s mountain water source.