Commercial photographer Andrei Duman aims to highlight the effects of climate change through a new personal project, Lake Powell: A 40-Year Visual Story of Water Crisis.
Duman traveled to Lake Powell, an artificial reservoir on the Colorado River in Utah and Arizona, to document depleting water levels. While climate change’s effects are wide-ranging and often difficult to appreciate fully, Duman hopes that his project’s simple and striking visual style will help viewers appreciate how climate change affects a resource near and dear to everyone’s heart — water supply.
“For me, the main purpose of this project was to try and highlight the depleting water level of Lake Powell through a unique visual medium,” Duman tells PetaPixel.
“I feel that we have all become numb to the headlines and statistics that we lose context of how far [water levels] have dropped over a span of a few years. This was a huge driving force for me. I wanted a single image that produces a powerful representation of the crisis that even if someone did not know the situation, they could easily understand it,” he continues.
Water levels in Lake Powell have significant repercussions for many people. It is the second largest artificial reservoir in the United States, behind only Lake Mead. However, ongoing droughts have significantly impacted both lakes.
In 2021, declining water levels forced officials to perform an emergency release of water from the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Last year, Lake Powell was at just under 23 percent of its capacity, its lowest water level since it was filled in 1963.
Earlier this year, the federal government finally recognized the threat facing Lake Powell. If water levels get too low, the lake will no longer be able to generate power at Glen Canyon Dam, and the lake could even reach “deadpool” status. This would mean the river is too low to get around, through, or under any dam.
“The dropping water levels have serious consequences not only for the surrounding area but also in faraway lands. We can all do more to help reduce the water levels dropping further. Northern Rockies and parts of Washington will likely see drought expand over the spring, and areas of extreme to exceptional drought are likely to persist across parts of the Southern High Plains. Oregon warns of a higher risk of water shortages and wildfires in the central part of the state, and places like central Utah, southeastern Colorado, and eastern New Mexico are still dealing with extreme drought. In California, like many other states, the prolonged drought will affect farmlands and decrease agriculture production, leading to higher prices across the country. This will have socioeconomic impacts leading to a reduction in the agriculture workforce and a knock-on effect on other jobs that support that industry,” Duman explains.
To help illustrate the urgency surrounding Lake Powell’s water levels, Duman worked with two departments within the Utah Department of Natural Resources, who told Duman that nobody had yet worked with them to try to creatively reflect Lake Powell’s decreasing water levels. He tells PetaPixel that he worked with the Utah Division of Water Resources for nearly a year on his Lake Powell project.
“When I initially presented the concept, I think it took them a little while to visualize it and truly understand what I was trying to achieve. I tried to find some references but could not find any. An early concept I had was to ‘light paint’ the lines contouring across the cliff walls using a drone. However, this became too much of an issue with it being a government-protected area,” Duman says.
He explains to PetaPixel that only a few types of drones would’ve been approved, and light painting would have required dim ambient light conditions, which would’ve been difficult while shooting from a boat on Lake Powell. It would have been a very laborious, time-consuming, expensive, and impractical option.
Duman ultimately decided to capture real-world images and combine them with digital lines added by retouching artists.
He was guided by boat patrol sheriffs for a couple of days, visiting areas he’d researched. Duman says he captured over 2,000 images, even though he knew he’d only use around six.
“I wanted to have the variety of the cliffs in terms of unique formations, height, and contour. It certainly was time-consuming to choose the images that made the final cut, with multiple passes and selects,” he explains.
Retouching required multiple revisions, and getting precise water levels for each image was important. To do so. Duman worked with the Utah Division of Water Resources, which provided accurate historical information.
Duman explains the red line on his visuals, “I also felt it was imperative to add the red line to represent the Minimum Power Pool which is defined as ‘The water elevation in the reservoir below which water can no longer produce power because the water does not reach the intakes for the hydropower generation.’ This is the line we all hope we don’t reach, and we are indeed dangerously close.”
“I truly hope that this project will help people understand the severity of the situation and the dire consequences we all face one way or another should we, as a human race, not make changes to avoid it. I hope it will spur someone to think about the water use in their homes and be more conscious about it,” Duman explains.
“I know we’ve heard this a million times, but we really do only have one planet, and water is such a precious commodity. Hopefully, this visual photography representation helps people remember the importance of water conservation for the sake of all of us,” he continues.
Andrei Duman’s Lake Powell: A 40-Year Visual Story of Water Crisis project is available on his website. Alongside this personal project, Duman recently shared details of his X-Ray series with PetaPixel. Duman’s commercial photography work is also available on his website and Instagram.
Image credits: All images © Andrei Duman