Daily Picture Show

Capturing The Complexities Of The Colorado River

  • A major tributary of the Colorado River, the Dolores River Basin, is seen south of Grand Junction, Colo. Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, talks about the connection of water and energy. "Water takes a lot of energy; a huge amount of energy. People don't realize it. We tend to take water for granted."
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    A major tributary of the Colorado River, the Dolores River Basin, is seen south of Grand Junction, Colo. Ken Neubecker, executive director of the Western Rivers Institute, talks about the connection of water and energy. "Water takes a lot of energy; a huge amount of energy. People don't realize it. We tend to take water for granted."
    Heather Rousseau
  • Lorie Syme looks outside at a gas pipeline valve in Battlement Mesa near Grand Junction, Colo., during a tour with Western Colorado Congress. Syme went on the tour because she wanted to learn more about the natural gas boom that has taken place in Colorado and across the country in recent years.
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    Lorie Syme looks outside at a gas pipeline valve in Battlement Mesa near Grand Junction, Colo., during a tour with Western Colorado Congress. Syme went on the tour because she wanted to learn more about the natural gas boom that has taken place in Colorado and across the country in recent years.
    Heather Rousseau
  • A well rig for horizontal hydraulic fracturing is seen on private land near the Roan Plateau in Garfield County, one of the largest natural gas producing counties in Colorado.
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    A well rig for horizontal hydraulic fracturing is seen on private land near the Roan Plateau in Garfield County, one of the largest natural gas producing counties in Colorado.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Gas pads in Garfield County. Fracking uses 5 million gallons of water per well, and thousands of wells are being fracked in Colorado alone. "This is enough water for two average families a year," Neubecker says.
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    Gas pads in Garfield County. Fracking uses 5 million gallons of water per well, and thousands of wells are being fracked in Colorado alone. "This is enough water for two average families a year," Neubecker says.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Thomas Ball prepares to tag the elk he shot in Parachute, Colo., on his friend Roy Savage's land. He supports natural gas drilling in the area, pointing out that the elk he got was in a herd grazing on land right by the gas wells.
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    Thomas Ball prepares to tag the elk he shot in Parachute, Colo., on his friend Roy Savage's land. He supports natural gas drilling in the area, pointing out that the elk he got was in a herd grazing on land right by the gas wells.
    Heather Rousseau/Heather Rousseau
  • Michael Lewis (from left), Roy Savage and Thomas Ball enjoy coffee and conversation after coming in from hunting. Lewis and Ball do not see the natural gas drilling that takes place on Savage's land as a threat to the sport they love.
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    Michael Lewis (from left), Roy Savage and Thomas Ball enjoy coffee and conversation after coming in from hunting. Lewis and Ball do not see the natural gas drilling that takes place on Savage's land as a threat to the sport they love.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Farmer Bill O'Leary of Parachute, Colo., pets his horse after feeding her oats. He had to sell some of his horses because he could not afford to keep feeding them with the drought. He is trying a new watering method. With sprinkler systems, the water just evaporates into the air, he says. "I'm going to run the water through a pipe, put holes in it, so the water runs to the produce."
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    Farmer Bill O'Leary of Parachute, Colo., pets his horse after feeding her oats. He had to sell some of his horses because he could not afford to keep feeding them with the drought. He is trying a new watering method. With sprinkler systems, the water just evaporates into the air, he says. "I'm going to run the water through a pipe, put holes in it, so the water runs to the produce."
    Heather Rousseau
  • Bill Fales with Cold Mountain Ranch prepares his horses for a cattle drive with his friend Frank Houpt (back left) and daughter Molly Fales (righ). He loves ranching and is doing everything he can to protect Thompson Divide from gas drilling.
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    Bill Fales with Cold Mountain Ranch prepares his horses for a cattle drive with his friend Frank Houpt (back left) and daughter Molly Fales (righ). He loves ranching and is doing everything he can to protect Thompson Divide from gas drilling.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Students with Eco-Flight look over Lake Powell from the Glen Canyon Dam. Laurel Hagen, executive director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, suggests that the answer to water preservation is a combination of endeavors, from improving technology to renewable energy such as solar panels, decreasing consumption and limiting population growth.
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    Students with Eco-Flight look over Lake Powell from the Glen Canyon Dam. Laurel Hagen, executive director of the Canyonlands Watershed Council, suggests that the answer to water preservation is a combination of endeavors, from improving technology to renewable energy such as solar panels, decreasing consumption and limiting population growth.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Michelle swims with her daughter Regan at the Battlement Mesa Community Center as concerned citizens discuss natural gas drilling in the area during the Western Colorado Congress annual meeting. The community center was fully paid for by the oil and gas company Exxon. Garfield County has been one of the largest producers of natural gas in Colorado.
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    Michelle swims with her daughter Regan at the Battlement Mesa Community Center as concerned citizens discuss natural gas drilling in the area during the Western Colorado Congress annual meeting. The community center was fully paid for by the oil and gas company Exxon. Garfield County has been one of the largest producers of natural gas in Colorado.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Lily Janssen (back left), watches as her mother and sister, Ginger and Laela Janssen, pick tomatoes from their greenhouse. Their home overlooks the Elk Mountain Range in Colorado. Ginger and her husband, Robb, built their home in a very site-specific location that lends itself to renewable and minimal energy use.
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    Lily Janssen (back left), watches as her mother and sister, Ginger and Laela Janssen, pick tomatoes from their greenhouse. Their home overlooks the Elk Mountain Range in Colorado. Ginger and her husband, Robb, built their home in a very site-specific location that lends itself to renewable and minimal energy use.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Laela Janssen jumps on the trampoline in her backyard on Basalt Mountain. Her home, which is completely off the grid and uses all renewable energy, can be seen behind her. "We live in a very site-specific place," says her father, Robb Janssen. The Janssens have springs above their property that feed into a creek; the creek then powers the entire house.
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    Laela Janssen jumps on the trampoline in her backyard on Basalt Mountain. Her home, which is completely off the grid and uses all renewable energy, can be seen behind her. "We live in a very site-specific place," says her father, Robb Janssen. The Janssens have springs above their property that feed into a creek; the creek then powers the entire house.
    Heather Rousseau
  • Steam rises from natural hot springs as bathers look up at the stars along the Crystal River just outside Carbondale. Ranchers use the Crystal River for irrigation; it also provides the town's water supply. The Crystal is one of only a few free-flowing rivers in the United States. Its pristine condition is threatened by a proposed hydropower dam and water diversions.
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    Steam rises from natural hot springs as bathers look up at the stars along the Crystal River just outside Carbondale. Ranchers use the Crystal River for irrigation; it also provides the town's water supply. The Crystal is one of only a few free-flowing rivers in the United States. Its pristine condition is threatened by a proposed hydropower dam and water diversions.
    Heather Rousseau

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As a photographer, how do you visualize something that can't always be seen? Like, how do you show the complex relationships between water, energy and modern society?

It's not easy, but that was my task as I worked on a photo essay for a capstone class at Ohio University last fall about life along the upper Colorado River.

Before graduate school, I lived in Aspen, Colo., for nearly five years. I was often skiing, rafting and biking — all of which are dependent on the river. Then, in December 2012, the Bureau of Reclamation released the Colorado River Basin Study, which said that the demand from the seven states sustained by the river is exceeding the supply. The Colorado River was also named the most endangered river of 2013 on the American Rivers annual list — owing to threats like hydroelectric power generation, municipal project proposals and warmer weather.

So over a 10-day period I drove across a 100-mile span along the Colorado River, meeting people in the surrounding towns and documenting their lives. I met ranchers, farmers, natural gas drillers and families — and most seemed to agree that water in the West is precious and limited.

Still, opinions about how to conserve were pretty wide-ranging.

To many, the Colorado River is the lifeblood of the West. Forty million people depend on it for irrigation, power, recreation and tourism. While exploring its wide-ranging impact, I ventured away from the banks, into backyards, and listened to wide-ranging opinions — hoping to find out, perhaps, where the confluence might be.

At the time of writing this, Heather Rousseau was an intern with NPR's science desk.

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