Sediment deposits on truck tyres on the shore of Lake Powell, photographed by Jonas Kako. Since 2022, ferry service to Bullfrog Marina in the northern part of Lake Powell has been suspended: Mooring is no longer possible due to low water levels.

The dying river.

Jonas Kakó documents the water crisis along the Colorado River.

When Jonas Kakó leaves for Mexico, he has a completely different story in mind: He actually wants to work with a fellow student on a film project about Lake Patzcuaro. But at a certain point in the work, both photographers realize they need a break. By chance, Jonas comes across an article in the New York Times about the Colorado River drying up. Due to climate change and excessive water consumption, the river carries less and less water. The issue is quite well known in the U.S., but not beyond its borders. Jonas spontaneously leaves for the USA. The work “Colorado – The Dying River” is created.

In the beginning, he lets himself drift with the story, spends the night in his car and finds his protagonists by chance. When he shows the story to Stern a week later, they are thrilled with the pictures. The star commissions Jonas to travel once again to the Colorado River with a copywriter. This time, the student is already researching contacts in advance. For example, while researching, he reads about the VanWinkle family, who can no longer afford to raise cows. Other images are nevertheless created by pure chance: one day Jonas sees three men in the desert. They wear white full-body suits and helmets. To Jonas, they seem surreal, like astronauts in a Martian landscape. The men are beekeepers. Talking to them, Jonas finds out that the drought is causing drastic problems for them as well.

It’s difficult to tell this kind of detailed story: On the one hand, Jonas has to be careful that his pictures don’t just depict striking weather phenomena. On the other hand, it is often difficult to find protagonists in the vastness of the desert. Conversely, many people meet Jonas with great openness: once, members of the Navajo tribe even invite him to participate in a sweatlodge ceremony. The traditional ritual includes singing, praying and sweating together in a mud hut.

In April 2023, Jonas Kakó will be with the story “Colorado – The Dying River” at World Press Photo and nominated for the World Report Award of the Festival della Fotografia Etica. The photo magazine “Leica Photography International” also publishes the story a second time. His other work has appeared in National Geographic, De Volkskrant, Vice and the Weser-Kurier.

El Mayor, Mexico, 01.12.2021

Leticia Galavis Sainz (51), from the Cucupá tribe, fishes in agricultural wastewater. They make up for the Colorado River after the border.

Parker, Arizona, 27.11.2021

Mexican farmworkers collect leftover cotton during harvest on the Colorado River Reservation. Cotton is a water-intensive crop and has been criticised for exacerbating drought.

San Luis Rio Colorado, Mexico, 30.11.2021

Jesus Colunga sits on the bank of the dried-up Colorado River near the US border. He often swam here in his youth. Just a few kilometres past the US-Mexico border, there is nothing left of the Colorado. All the water has been diverted into canals for agriculture and to supply big cities like Los Angeles and Phoenix.

Glamis Dunes, California, USA, 25.11.2021

The All American Canal is the largest irrigation canal in the world. It handles an average discharge of 428 m³/s of water.

Wenden, Arizona, USA. 11.03.2022,

Alfredo Fierro and his co-workers, Ubaldo and José, tend bees in the desert. For several years, the men have had to provide water for the bees in troughs. Because it rains less and less, the colonies cannot survive otherwise.

Algodones, Mexico, 30.11.2021

ProNatura employees replace a pipe. This is necessary for irrigating trees. The Colorado Delta was once a thriving ecosystem, but as the water receded, so did the plants and animals. ProNatura is in charge of several renaturation areas in the delta, where native tree species are cultivated and planted.

Gap, Arizona, USA, 08.03.2022,

Jeremiah Fat lives without running water on the Navajo Indian Reservation near Page, Arizona. Every week he has to fetch water for himself and his horses at a drinking water point in the next town.

Boulder City, Nevada, USA 26.11.2021

View of Lake Mead from Hoover Dam. Sediment deposits on the rocks give an idea of the former water level.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 08.09.2022

Nicole Carrier works as a Water Patrol Officer. She notes an irrigation violation in her patrol vehicle. Due to the drought, the city of Las Vegas has set strict guidelines on water usage. Depending on the time of year, private households are only allowed to irrigate on a limited basis. If too much water is used, a fine may be imposed.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 09.09.2022

Pool Party at Flamingo Hotel & Casino

Landwirt Dean VanWinkle auf einem weißen Pferd mit Lasso bei Sonnenuntergang in der Wüste von Colorado. Whitewater, Colorado, USA, 02.03.2022,

Dean VanWinkle, 5th generation farmer, catches freshly born calves. Raising cows has become expensive with the drought. In 2021, Dean VanWinkle’s family had to sell 100 of their cows early. Their own hay fields only brought in about 60% of the actual amount. The reason: there was no water for irrigation.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA 10.09.2022

The Leasure Lawn Inc. team rolls out artificial turf. Due to the drought, the city of Las Vegas has set strict guidelines on water consumption. Thus, from 2026, only lawns that serve the community may be irrigated. Already today, many private households are switching to artificial turf.

Loma, Colorado, USA, 28.02.2022

Due to the drought, many farmers have to sell their cows and bulls early, often at a loss. Continued rearing with purchased hay has become expensive in recent years, and the water for producing hay has become scarcer.

Navajo Reservation, USA

Leonard Sloan checks the water level of a rainwater retention basin on the rangeland near the Grand Canyon. In just a few weeks, the water will be used up by the freely grazing cows and sheep. Then he will have to transport water for his animals by truck every week.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA

Gondola ride in the canals of the Venitian Hotel & Casino on the Strip in Las Vegas. 90% of the city’s water needs are fed by the Colorado River.

Las Vegas, Nevada, USA, 11.09.2022

Joe and his girlfriend René have been living in the flood tunnels of Las Vegas for several years. Due to the drought in the Mohave Desert, it rarely rains in Las Vegas. Therefore, thousands of homeless people use the tunnels as shelter.

Arizona, USA, 08.03.2022

The Colorado River at Lees Ferry is a popular starting point for rafting trips through the Grand Canyon.

Baja California, Mexico, 29.11.2021

Employees of the local water authority conagua repair a weir on the canal alimentador central near Algodones. The canal brings water from the Morelos Dam to the surrounding fields.

Algodones, Mexico, 11.2021

The export of vegetables is a lucrative business. On the Mexican side, as well, the river’s water is diverted into irrigation canals, so that the river runs dry only a few kilometres after the border.

Baja California, Mexiko, 24.03.2022

The Colorado Delta near San Felipe, Mexico

El Mayor, Mexico, 24.03.2022

Antonia Torres Gonzáles fears that with the disappearance of the water, the Cucupá culture will disappear. After all, the fish stocks will become smaller as a result. People could leave the village to find work in the cities. That is why Antonia Torres Gonzáles wants to counteract the loss of culture: She passes on traditional handicrafts to younger generations, organises traditional rituals and takes part in conferences.

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