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Water in the West- Arid Waters

The Water in the West Project is a photographic response to the growing water crisis that exists because our culture thinks of water as a commodity, or an abstract legal right, rather than the most basic physical source of life. The Water in the West project is a broad based collaboration among thirteen other photographers; selections of our decade long commitment are archived at the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson. An important publication documents the origins of the project and places it into context of collaborative photographic projects: Arid Waters, edited by Peter Goin and Text by Ellen Manchester, published by the University of Nevada Press in 1992.

Water in the American West is sprayed from ornamental fountains, recycled through human made waterfalls, and generated as ocean waves in land-locked wild water oases. Although western states are growing in population at a phenomenal rate, water resources have already been fully allocated. The ancient and irreplaceable waters in the aquifers are being pumped out at an ever-increasing rate. Also, as most of us know, the Colorado River , the Truckee River where most Western water law was first adjudicated, and the American River, like most if not all other western rivers, have been over-subscribed for decades.

These photographs represent nearly twenty years of documenting aridity in lands previously ignored, exploited, or defined as well, simply ugly. This series focuses on the Great Basin desert, defined as the large area of interior drainage in the western United States comprising most of Nevada, parts of Utah, Idaho, California, Wyoming, and Oregon, including the Great Salt Lake, the Mohave Desert, Death Valley, and the Carson Sink. These photographs provide visual evidence of stark desert horizons, dry reservoirs, threatened wildlife refuges, and evaporating ponds, among others. Desert lake beds are bleak reminders of the absence of water, and of the increasing aridity of these areas. I have felt compelled to bear witness to the growing crisis of water scarcity, which exists because we as people often fail to understand the consequences of our water use (abuse).

As plush, green lawns, fountains, and golf courses continue to replace sagebrush and sand dunes, progress is hailed as inevitable. Clearly, most people who live in these arid lands have yet to understand the long term implications of aridity. We constantly expect greater precipitation than rainfall averages indicate; irrigation, while making agriculture possible in the desert, implicitly presents the illusion that aridity has been overcome. Perhaps these photographs will serve as reminders of the land-and climate-in which we all live.

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