GREEN

These Photos Of Drought In The Colorado River Basin Are Beautiful And Depressing

04/02/2015 11:27 am ET | Updated Apr 15, 2015

The West is running on empty.

For nearly 15 years, the Colorado River Basin has been plagued by drought. Stretching from the Rockies to southern Arizona, the basin provides water for more than 40 million people in California and the Southwest through a series of reservoirs. But the water is disappearing... fast.

Lake Mead, the nation's largest reservoir in terms of capacity, dropped to its lowest levels since it was filled in the 1930s last year. Lake Powell, 180 miles upstream, is below 45 percent of capacity, and story-high "bathtub rings" -- emblems of drastically low water levels -- are now a permanent fixture.

"Today we are standing on dry grass where there should be five feet of snow," California Governor Jerry Brown said earlier this week as he announced the state's first mandatory water cutbacks in history. Snowpack levels many had hoped would replenish the reservoirs are at pathetic lows.

Getty photographer Justin Sullivan documented Lake Powell's falling water levels, and the images are both beautiful and depressing. Entire stretches that were once under water now lie parched and docks rest uselessly on dry land. Take a look.

  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah. As severe drought grips parts of the Western United States, a below average flow of water is expected to enter Lake Powell and Lake Mead, the two biggest reservoirs of the Colorado River Basin. Lake Powell is currently at 45 percent of capacity and is at risk of seeing its surface elevation fall below 1,075 feet above sea level by September, which would be the lowest level on record. The Colorado River Basin supplies water to 40 million people in seven western states.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Page, Arizona.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    Water trickles under the Rainbow Bridge at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A paddleboarder floats by Lone rock on Lake Powell on March 29, 2015 near Big Water, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    The top of a bleached ''bathtub ring'' is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell on March 29, 2015 in Page, Arizona.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A boat sits on the Colorado River at Horseshoe Bend on March 30, 2015 in Page, Arizona.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    People walk on a beach that used to be the bottom of Lake Powell at Lone Rock Camp on March 29, 2015 near Big Water, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A section of Lake Powell that used to be under water stands dry on March 30, 2015 near Big Water, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A waterway off of Lake Powell is nearly dry on March 30, 2015 near Big Water, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A view of low water levels at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A bleached "bathtub ring" is visible on the rocky banks of Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A boat dock sits on the beach of Lake Powell at the Wahweap Marina on March 28, 2015 in Page, Arizona.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A view of low water levels at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    A view of low water levels at Lake Powell on March 28, 2015 in Lake Powell, Utah.
  • Justin Sullivan / Getty Images
    Lake Powell is shown from an airplane window on March 30, 2015 in Page, Arizona.

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