Life along the Colorado River

  • Young cowboys guide sheep into the arena during the summer rodeo in Fraser, Colorado, near the headwaters of the Colorado River.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • Guides rig their raft for a three-day trip down the Colorado River from a dock near Fruita, Colorado.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • The Las Vegas Strip, where golf courses, huge fountains and gardens promote an image of the lush life in the Mojave Desert.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • Ralph Spencer drags his 1950s pump out of the lake after filling up on water at Lake Mead. He and his wife and two other couples live on government-owned land at the reservoir.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • Hydroelectric engineer Randy Donnanemma at the bottom of the Hoover Dam in Boulder City, Nevada. Its reservoir, Lake Mead, supplies water to Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Diego, Phoenix and northern Mexico.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • Children play in the plastic pool in front of their home in Phoenix, Arizona, where more than 2 million people live in the middle of a desert.

    Kasia Broussalian
  • Just south of the border in San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, the lower Colorado River runs dry.

    Kasia Broussalian
 

See a slideshow of Broussalian's images of the Colorado River -- and its people.

The desert Southwest is unlikely to run out of water. But under the pressures of climate change and drought, population and politics, the Southwest is likely to run out of cheap water. The deal of the century will become last century's deal.

Last summer, inspired by an environmental policy class at the University of Colorado at Boulder, 23-year-old Kasia Broussalian set out to meet and photograph some of the people who depend on the precarious generosity of the Colorado River. Broussalian, who recently graduated with a degree in broadcast journalism, traveled with Wall Street Journal photographer Brian Frank, whom she'd met at a photography workshop, and Frank's girlfriend, Jasmin Lopez, who grew up near the mouth of the Colorado in far northern Mexico. For two sweltering months, the three worked their way along the course of the lower Colorado, knocking on doors, striking up conversations, and following one lead to the next.

Broussalian photographed teenagers at play in urban skate parks, elderly men at work in Mexican onion fields, and a long-legged accounting major who spends her summers handing out drink coupons near the fountains of the Las Vegas Strip. Broussalian and Frank followed engineer Randy Donnanemma into the depths of the Hoover Dam, and spent days combing Phoenix suburbs for signs of life. ("We found out that the only people outside in June are those who don't have air conditioning," says Broussalian.) Later in the summer, she traveled solo along the northern reaches of the Colorado, where she photographed farmers, rafters and rodeo cowboys.

Everywhere she went, Broussalian was struck by the tremendous variety of human lives and livelihoods tied together by a single river -- and by the magnitude of the changes that lie ahead. "Once something as basic as water starts to get more expensive, what's going to happen?" she asks. "What are these places going to look like? What are people going to do?"

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