Western Water

Artist's Statement


“You never miss the water, till the well runs dry,” states the blues song based on an old Scottish proverb.  For most Americans we never even think about water unless our city or town imposes restrictions in the summer.  For more than 1 billion people around the world, however, finding clean water is a daily and often fruitless struggle.  For the Western United States , water is the single most critical resource which controlled Western development and will eventually bring a halt to the rapid growth it is experiencing today.  Western expansion really began when Congress passed the Reclamation Act of 1902.  It established the Reclamation agency and its goal of building dams, reservoirs and canals to enable the irrigating of 16 Western states.  Asked in surveys to guess the number of dams in America , most estimate a few hundred; actually there are more than 5500 huge dams and in excess of 2 million in total!   More than half the people now living in the West depend on water from the Colorado River system.  Half of our fruit and vegetable production in the US comes from California , and nearly all of that is dependent on inexpensive water provided by dams and irrigation projects funded by the taxpayer.  The Imperial Valley in California was called the Valley of the Dead before it was irrigated with water diverted from the Colorado .  The Colorado River Compact, which controls the allocation of the water of the Colorado among the Western states, was based on the record years, 1905, 1906, and 1907 of rainfall.  The states therefore take more than a sustainable amount from the system each year, leaving a flow of essentially zero at the Gulf of California .  The Gunnison River which is shown in “Slipstream,” an image captured in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park , is a tributary of the Colorado .


Living in the arid mountains of the Western Slope of Colorado has made me much more sensitive to the impact of water.  Only a few miles from my home, the ranch on one side of the road has no water rights and it supports just a few cattle who wander throughout miles of sagebrush and pinion pines while on the other side sits a ranch with water rights from Owl Creek; (shown in “Wildflowers and Owl Creek”) that ranch is lush with dark green alfalfa hay and hundreds of cows.  I also look at the source of my drinking water every day: the East Fork of Dallas Creek.  Dallas Creek begins at Blue Lakes , just below Mt. Sneffels , the “fourteener” that I see out my living room window.  The image “ Sometime Lake ” shows that view from a few miles closer to Mt. Sneffels and “Rock in Falls” was captured in Dallas Creek near the trailhead to Blue Lakes .


Current headlines are mostly about the high cost of gasoline.  Fortunately there are many promising alternative technologies which with responsible development may ultimately relieve our dependence on petroleum fuels.  Unfortunately, there will never be a substitute for water.  Not only are we running short of water resources in many areas, but we are not taking adequate care of what we have.  More than half of all fresh water supplies in the world are polluted in one way or another.  The snow melt that feeds Dallas Creek is crystal clear but a ten million ton pile of radioactive uranium mine tailings sits only 700 feet from the Colorado .  We need to wake up and begin to take care of the resources we have.


I have been fascinated by water for a long time.  I can vividly remember making Popsicle stick boats and floating them in the gutter when it rained in the summer.  One of my favorite escapes while growing up was to the creek that flowed through the woods near my house (don’t tell my mom).  As a photographer I am still drawn to the water.  I find that the interactions of flowing water and a rock, in the middle of a river, in a small creek or as it pours over a falls creates images that appear to me to be natural paintings.  I love seeing birds and wildlife in the water and I look for reflections every where.  In the middle of an afternoon of fly fishing I stop and simply marvel at the beauty of the water, rocks and forest around me.  I hope these photographs touch something deep within the viewer.  Even more, I hope they inspire us all to be better stewards of our precious resources, especially water.


Michael Cassidy

Ridgway , Colorado


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