HOME to more than 39 million people, California is the most populous US state. It is also among the driest. Together, these factors make demand for water a long-standing challenge. River’s End, a new documentary by Jacob Morrison, dives deep into the water crisis and asks difficult questions about who gets the water and why.
At the centre of the film is the Sacramento-San Joaquin river delta, an estuary in the north of the state. Connecting the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers, the delta is a key source of fresh water and the battleground for the latest California water war.
In 2015, then-governor Jerry Brown and the California Department of Water Resources proposed a $15 billion plan now known as California WaterFix & EcoRestore that would see two large tunnels built from the Sacramento river under the delta to provide water for California. Inevitably, not everyone agrees with the plan: the tunnels would redirect water towards southern California, reducing freshwater supplies to farmers around the delta.
Narrated by DeLanna Studi, River’s End combines stock footage of landscapes around the delta and other parts of California, which highlights the fluctuating water supply levels, with simple animation to bring an educational slant and explain the extent and significance of the issue. With interviewees including politicians, corporate officials and local farmers, Morrison delivers a bleak yet brutally honest insight into the battle for water.
The documentary touches briefly on supply disputes in the early 20th century in the Owens valley and its role in the California water wars, which comprised a number of political conflicts between local farmers and the City of Los Angeles over water rights. But its main thrust examines how current supply issues are causing conflict between regional corporations and local farmers.
Both sides say they need water to run their businesses, but it soon becomes clear that the local communities don’t have nearly as much government support as the corporations. There is testimony from frustrated local farmers who rely on water from the delta to grow their produce and say their livelihoods have been affected, not only by a lack of supply, but also by pumping facilities, which take water away from the area.
The situation in the Westlands Water District in central California proves particularly enlightening. Its connections with ex-President Donald Trump (via former Westlands lobbyist David Bernhardt), a focus on lucrative yet thirsty almond farming and the substantial difference in living conditions between farm owners and workers in the field paint a stark picture of the power and influence of large corporations.
Although the corporation-versus-the-little-person narrative is all too recognisable, the documentary also zooms out further to highlight the consequences on the wider environment and the wildlife that also relies on it for survival. Among the locally endangered species mentioned is the delta smelt, a fish species that is close to extinction due to the ongoing damage to the delta’s ecosystem.
River’s End provides a thorough overview of California’s water issues and the need to achieve a sustainable water supply. It ends with a solemn message. As the state’s population continues to grow, it remains unclear whether there will be enough water to meet the requirements of all those who need it. In the end, it may come down to who needs, or perhaps who wants, it more.
More on these topics:
Credit: Source link