Business, Economics and Jobs

Photo story: Death of the Colorado River


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BOSTON — For centuries, the Colorado River flowed 1,450 miles from the Rocky Mountains to the Sea of Cortez.

But for a variety of reasons, this lush vein of plenty today evaporates before crossing the Mexican border.

Photographer Brain L. Frank roamed northern Mexico and the American Southwest, documenting the human toll of the river's disappearance. Here is what he found:

The Colorado River, which stretches from the northwest U.S. to the Sea of Cortez, is a dying waterway. The river is a shell of its former self a victim of overpopulation, pollution, damming, climate change and apathy. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


An 11-year-old Cucapa Indian fishermand retrieves an empty net from the waters that were once full of fish in his village's traditional fishing grounds near Mexicali, Mexico. The Cucapa have watched their water disappear as the Colorado has run dry. (Brian L. Frank/Globalpost)


An agricultural laborer tends to an onion field in Sonora, Mexico, near the U.S. border. A majority of the arable land in the region has been purchased or leased by U.S.-based corporate farmers who broker water deals to irrigate their lands. Smaller, privately owned farms struggle to compete. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Sitting on her family's failing farm, a grandmother is comforted by her daughter in Sonora, Mexico. The farm, with its this cows and now arid land, sits only yards from where the Colorado River once ran. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


The Colorado River feeds into the Salton Sea in California's Imperial Valley. The area was once a thriving tourist destination but with pollution and climate change, inhabitants and tourists began to fade away from the sea. Slab City sprung up amid the ruins of what was once a military base. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


The tamed Colorado River irrigates both agricultural and suburban Arizona. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Cucapa Indian Chief Francisco Cecena Diaz draws a diagram in the sand of where the Colorado River used to pass through their native fishing grounds. The waters have receded so far that they have had to fish illegally in protected waters, leading to conflicts with the Mexican government and Greenpeace. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Children play in the irrigation ditch, or "poso" in Sonora, Mexico. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Once a flowing, lush river, the Colorado runs dry in Sonora, Mexico. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


The Hoover Dam tamed the mighty Colorado River and now regulates water flow. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Power lines stretch from the Cerro Prieto geothermal powerplant in Sonora, Mexico. The U.S. purchases power from the plant, which doesn't have to abide by the same environmental standards imposed in the U.S. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


California receives 4.4 million acre-feet of water from the Colorado River, with a large percent going to LA. (Brian L. frank/GlobalPost)


The Bellagio Hotel, a 30-story luxury hotel with a surrounding 8.5-acre lake sits in the middle of the desert in Las Vegas. The fountains of the Bellagio cost an estimated $75 million. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A woman sunbathes in a pool near Phoenix, Arizona, in temperatures near 115 degrees Fahrenheit. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Jasmin, a bartender at the Hogs and Heifers bar in downtown Las Vegas, dances on the bar to try to drum up mid-day business. The movie "Coyote Ugly" was inspired by the Hogs and Heifers bar. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


After smoking methamphetamine, a bartender sneers at a prostitute plying her trade in the hot Sonoran desert. With the decline in agriculture, vices such as prostitution have risen in some communities. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A laborer waits at dawn to begin a shift picking onions near the U.S. birder in Sonora, Mexico. Much of the arable farmland is run by corporate farms and most of the produce exported to the U.S. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)
Mexican agricultural workers pick grapes near Grand Junction, Colorado. Seasonal workers migrate thousands of miles from Mexico to Colorado every year to pick grapes for the wine. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Laborers wait at dawn to begin a shift picking onions for less than a dollar an hour in the sweltering heat near the U.S. border in Sonora, Mexico. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


As the water level of Lake Meade has dropped, residents have relocated. But a few long-time residents remain, fishing the receding waters. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A child plays in his suburban backyard near Phoenix, Arizona. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A young girl cries in the desert heat after being hosed down in her front yard near Phoenix. The family could not afford air conditioning, so they improvised to keep cool. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


An old U.S. Navy pool is used for skateboarding by local youngsters in Slab City, California. The area was once a thriving tourist destination, but as the Salton Sea dried up and became polluted, residents fled and tourists didn't return, leaving mostly those living on the fringe of society. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A man sits waiting for the air-conditioned bus to arrive in the desert heat of Las Vegas. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


Lake Meade, a reservoir fed by the Colorado, has seen its water level drop more than 100 feet in recent years as a result of drought, increased agricultural use, a booming Las Vegas population and climate change. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


An abandoned house boat sits idle at Lake Meade, Nevada. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


A fire destroys a business in the Salton Sea area of the Imperial Valley in California. The business was one of the last standing in the mostly deserted area that was once a thriving tourist destination. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)


The future of the Colorado is uncertain, leaving the water source and the cultures along its shores in danger. (Brian L. Frank/GlobalPost)