The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict
Photographs by Pete McBride

On view: August 14, 2015 – February 7, 2015

Supplying vital water to more than 40 million Americans living in the arid West, the Colorado River is one of the most diverted, dammed, and heavily litigated rivers in the world. The farmers and residents of the rapidly growing western states rely on the river for irrigation, drinking water, and electricity. This demand has permanently altered the river’s ecology. This exhibition follows the length of the river’s epic 1,450 mile journey from its headwaters high in the Colorado Rockies to its dried-up delta touching the Sea of Cortez, illuminating the historical, geographical, and environmental significance of this life- giving river.

In order to bring awareness to these issues in a unique way, Pete McBride shot many of the images from the air. As McBride explains, “The aerial perspective shows where we as humans have been, how we connect to the earth, and how nature relates to itself.”  

Sonoran Desert, Mexico

Fifty miles south of the U.S.– Mexico border, the Colorado River Delta and its once-rich estuary wetlands—reduced by 95 percent since the river was restricted by dams—are now as parched as the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Only rare floods or cancelled farm orders allow the river to reach the Gulf of California (Sea of Cortez).

Canyonlands National Park, UT

“The Loop” is located six miles above the Green River confluence in Canyonlands National Park, 50 miles downstream of Moab, Utah. The river follows an anticline atop 300-million-year-old salt beds buckling against the weight of more recent rock sediments. In 1964, President Johnson created Canyonlands National Park, as uranium prices fell and allowed him to work around numerous mining claims in the area.

Grand Canyon, AZ

The milky waters of the Little Colorado River tributary in the Grand Canyon are the last sanctuary for the endangered humpback chub, whose populations are monitored by tags implanted marine biologists. These warm-water natives - equipped with neuromast-sonar receptors to catch insects in muddy waters - are compromised by the clear cold water released from the depths of the reservoir below the dam. The population recently rose to 6,000 after workers euthanized more than 30,000 trout and carp.

Lake Mead, NV

Completed in 1936, the 70-story high Hoover Dam was the greatest man-made structure after the Wall of China. For two decades it also reigned as the largest power plant. Built “to make the desert bloom”, the dam faces a diminishing river due to climate change and urban growth. If the ongoing drought lowers the reservoir another 50 feet (currently down more than 125 feet), the hydroelectric turbines will be inoperable.

About the Artist

Native Coloradan Pete McBride has spent almost two decades studying the world with his camera.  A self-taught, award-winning photographer, filmmaker and writer, he has traveled on assignment to over 70 countries for the publications of the National Geographic Society, Smithsonian, Outside, Men’s journal, Esquire, STERN and many others.

Pete McBride Biography ImageRaised on a Colorado cattle ranch, Pete is passionate about story telling and unique, gripping ways to communicate them, whether it involves vantages from 20,000 feet or swimming below icebergs.  His perspective on capturing water-related stories led American Photo Magazine to list Pete as “one of the top five water photographers” in the nation.

After a decade working mostly abroad, Pete decided to focus his cameras closer to home on a subject closer to his heart.  Combining his passion for aviation and his belief in conservation, he spent over four years documenting his local river – the Colorado.  This journey culminated in the acclaimed coffee table book: “The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict”, an award-winning short film, “Chasing Water” and a traveling museum exhibit/lecture currently touring the U.S.

In 2011 and 2012, his film “Chasing Water” won over 20 film festival awards including “Best Short Documentary” at Canada’s Banff Mtn. Film Festival, “Best Environmental Film” at England’s Kendal Mtn. Festival and “Best Documentary” at Florida’s Clear Water Festival, to name a few.

His photography honors include awards from Pictures of the Year International, Photo Week DC, Communications Arts, The Society of Professional journalists and a Knight Fellowship for Professional journalists at Stanford University.  In 2011, he was awarded “River Conservator” by the Roaring Fork Conservancy for his ongoing awareness work with water conservation.

When not on assignment, you can find Peter in the mountains or on the rivers around the Roaring Fork Valley, Colorado.


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