The Central Arizona Project (CAP) Canal, at Bopp Road, outside Tucson, Arizona. The CAP Canal carries Colorado River water almost 500 kilometers to this point and then, beyond. © John Trotter
No Agua, No Vida: The human alteration of the Colorado River
Since 2001, I have been photographing the consequences of the sweeping human alteration of the Colorado River, in the Southwestern United States and Northwestern Mexico. The Colorado, I soon learned, was greatly reduced from
what it once was and no longer makes its ancient rendezvous with the Sea of Cortez, between the Baja California peninsula and the Mexican mainland.
Forces north of the border had other destinations planned for the river’s water, and in 1922 divided its annual flow between seven U.S. states and Mexico. They built an extensive network of dams, stilling much of the once roiling river and creating the foundation on which the Southwestern United States has been built.
But as it has turned out, the foundation of everything, the premise of 1922, was based more on wishful thinking than fact and up to 25% more water has been promised to the river’s users than actually exists.
My project has been an exploration of the disconnection many Americans have with the source of their water, one of the few things in the world without which we will not survive. Inevitably, our entire nation will pay for this hubris. Only the degree of sacrifice is still somewhat negotiable.
Local environmentalist Juan Butrón pretends to drink water from the dry channel of the Colorado River as he goes looking for the leading edge of the slowly moving pulse flow of water from the Morelos Dam, a few kilometers upstream. Within a few hours it would reach this spot, though in less than two months the riverbed would once again be dry. © John Trotter
Intake pipes into Lake Mead which provide Colorado River water for nearby Las Vegas, Nevada. The city's water agency will be spending well over $1 billion to build a new intake and attached pumping station as insurance against continuing decline in the level of Lake Mead. The new intake will be near the bottom of the lake and would still provide water to Las Vegas, even if the lake level dropped below the intake towers at Hoover Dam, after which water could not be delivered downstream. © John Trotter
Mexican biologist Alejandra Calvo holds a Wilson's warbler caught in a research net erected in the Laguna Grande habitat restoration area in the Colorado River Delta. © John Trotter
A crowd of mostly Navajo people spend the late afternoon of U.S. Independence Day in 2004 on a part of Lake Powell previously submerged in water when the reservoir dropped to its lowest level since the lake had been filled in the 1960's. As of spring 2015, Lake Powell is again in almost the same condition. © John Trotter
The Big Surf water park in Tempe, Arizona, with the oldest recreational wave machine in the United States. The city receives Colorado River from Lake Havasu, over 300 kilometers away, via the Central Arizona Project Canal. © John Trotter