The Colorado River is known worldwide and is recognized as one of the most beloved waterways on the planet. Yet despite this, it also bears a more troubling distinction: since 1998, after 6 million years, the Colorado River no longer reaches the Sea of Cortez.
CHASING WATER, the debut film from writer/photographer/storyteller and Colorado native Peter McBride, tells the true story of the river that, closer to its source, figures prominently as a playground for outdoor enthusiasts. Downriver, the picture looks quite different.
During his days growing up on a Colorado cattle ranch, Peter's daily existence centered on the irrigation water that fed his family's land. He was intrigued by the idea of tracing that water as it made its way to the river and eventually - he assumed - reached the Sea of Cortez.
As a writer and photographer Peter's journeys had taken him to over 60 different countries to communicate the stories of distant peoples. But suddenly a story much closer to home was calling. That boyhood fantasy of following the Colorado River to its endpoint in the Sea of Cortez was about to become reality.
In CHASING WATER, Peter teams up with friend Jonathan Waterman, a writer consumed by the same curiosity, who sets out to paddle the length of the Colorado. What for Peter begins as a ground-level adventure quickly takes to the air once they pass through the high country. At this point Peter realizes the only way to grasp the full picture is to gain an aerial perspective.
That aerial view provides a visual narrative both stunning and unsettling. From above we discover that this mighty river, once capable of carving out the majesty of the Grand Canyon, increasingly bears the likeness of an abused child. In addition to the stress of two decades of drought, it has been ruthlessly drained, manipulated and diverted to quench the insatiable thirst of human consumption. In the span of roughly 80 years one of our most treasured resources has become brittle and fractured.
This becomes most brutally evident on the last leg of Waterman and McBride's adventure, as they wind their way into Mexico. After landing in a frothy, garbage-laden morass, the pair is forced to complete their journey on foot. Walking for miles they eventually reach the fabled river delta McBride had read about as a youth.
What once offered travelers a lush plain of untold beauty teeming with flora and fauna stretches before them as a desolate wasteland, a vast expanse of parched soil. It is here that we recognize this harsh reality: in an effort to meet the demands of a burgeoning population, the Colorado River risks being drained into extinction.
CHASING WATER is a must-see for everyone, particularly those who make their home in the desert Southwest. McBride offers us a perspective we would likely never get to see ourselves. In doing so, he instills a greater sense of urgency about the state of our natural resources than we are able to perceive in the course of our daily lives.
McBride's film is currently touring the country as part of the WILD AND SCENIC FILM FESTIVAL. The festival makes its stop in Grand Junction courtesy of Western Colorado Congress on Saturday, March 24th in the University Center Ballroom on the Colorado Mesa University campus. The 2-hour festival includes 11 environmentally themed films kicking off at 7pm. For full details click here.
For my interview with CHASING WATER's director, Peter McBride, tune into KAFM (www.kafmradio.org) Tuesday, March 13th from 12:30-1:00 MST. If you can't tune in, check my podcast page in the next few days.