Last month the Colorado River crossed the Mexican border for the first time in years. It is on its way to the Gulf of California amid hopes that it will revive its delta, which Aldo Leopold described in 1922 as an ecological paradise but which is now a barren, saline desert. In the midst of the worst drought in the region’s history, prolonged negotiations between the U.S. and Mexico – spurred by scientists and environmentalists – have brought water back to the southern Colorado, and there is hope that the once-grand river, destroyed by economic forces bent on extracting every drop of its water, will flow again to the sea. For the past 13 years, John Trotter has been documenting that story in his photographs. He first went to the Colorado after the attempted-murder conviction of a street gang leader, who had orchestrated a beating so severe that John was “left for dead in a pool of blood.” He had been taking pictures of children playing for the Sacramento Bee.
Still traumatized, he sought relief in something “bigger than my own experience.” He started at the bottom, in the delta where the river is only a dry bed, and he found a landscape as damaged as he was, its people eking a living out of dead land. He empathized. He taught himself Spanish. He kept returning. He watched people working for years to bring water to the delta. It had become, for the Colorado and for his own life, “a redemption story.”