Four Questions for Photographer Peter McBride on “The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict”


Peter McBride, author of 'The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict'

Our expert blogger, Ted Kowalski, had the opportunity to interview  Peter McBride, photographer of “The Colorado River: Flowing Through Conflict” . Let us know your thoughts on McBride’s experiences and opinions and stay tuned– Kowalski promises that we’ll find more where this came from next week.

Ted: Can you describe how you got a picture of the humpback chub on page 82? 

Peter: I spent a day with biologists in the Little Colorado River. The scientists were doing a population study, catching, tagging and releasing fish. I spent most of the time, chest-deep in the water, with an underwater camera trying to make images of the humpback chub and others species.  To my delight, one humpback chub freely swam in the hand of a biologist after being released. It stayed there for some 20/30 seconds as if it didn’t want to leave – almost saying thanks for the helping hand.

Ted: Some solutions that are suggested in the book for meeting future water supply/demand imbalances are pool covers and improved agricultural conservation, but both of these solutions would fail to supply the potential of millions of acre-feet needed to meet the projected Colorado River water demands in 2060.  What do you think about solutions that have been suggested by some that would add more water to the system, such as desalination plants in Mexico, or a pipeline from the Mississippi River basin?

Peter: Yes, many of the solutions mentioned in the book do not go all the way. Of course, if the solutions were easy, we wouldn’t be in the current situation. I do think that whatever we can do; be it pool covers, agriculture efficiencies, etc will help. The river is dying a death of a million cuts and we need to start all the band aides available, even if they are small. Desalination plants and new pipelines could help if population numbers continue to grow. The key issue there will be their energy use and cost. If we can find ways to do one or both, with renewable, clean energy sources at competitive costs, then I would add them to the list of solutions.

Ted: Did you have any incidents with Mexican drug runners while you were in Mexico? 

Peter: Thankfully, we did not have any problems. On the contrary, Jon and I were only met with the warm hospitality of Mexican farmers. Regardless, it was a bit unnerving at times walking some 90 miles across barren desert and sleeping in the open air, exposed to anyone who might be running drugs.  Once I returned from our long slog down the dry delta, I did go up with the U.S. border patrol helicopter team to make images above the border and the Morelos Dam.  As part of the deal, I had to fly the entire mission. We flew for five plus hours, roughly 30 feet off the desert and tracked down and caught seven drug runners carrying 80 pounds each of marijuana. Definitely, one of the more unusual, aerial photo missions of the entire project.

Ted: Implicit throughout the book is the fact that the Colorado River is oversubscribed.  Yet, your voices seem to have some hope that water managers will find ways to meet the future challenges that face them regarding managing the water resources of the Colorado River.  Do you have hope, and what gives you that hope?

Peter: I am a realistic optimist at heart so I do have hope. I think we have to be, otherwise people will give up. If we have the engineering capacity to build the Hoover Dam in 1935 and construct 336 miles of the Central Arizona Project  across the desert, than I strongly believe we have the ability to restore the river and the delta and meet our water needs. It won’t be easy and will take increased awareness, better efficiencies, conservation and political will to do it. But I have seen many examples across the West of people playing a role to make it happen: whether it is Denver Water’s outreach, Southern Nevada Water Authority’s xeriscaping, the water saving, gravity-fed sprinklers on my family’s cattle ranch or the voices of many water managers today agreeing that we need to work together versus fighting.  Through hard work, I think we can use the water in the River’s system to supply our homes, fountains and farms, and provide adequate flow for the species that live in the river.

to be continued…

Ted Kowalski, a former member of the Colorado Attorney General’s Office, heads the Colorado River unit of the Colorado Water Conservation Board.  He has been involved with Colorado River interstate compact matters and instream flow protection for 17 years.  His favorite spot on the river is the Grand Canyon stretch because of its history, beauty, and magic.

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