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

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

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.

Drought Photos from Colorado River Basin


California Drought