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Capturing The Complexities Of The Colorado River

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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