Documentary warns: Think before you drink

Jessica Yu’s 2011 documentary Last Call at the Oasis brings to light the issue of water scarcity in the world.

By Natasha Fuller

The final Green Series film of the semester Last Call at the Oasis opened with the thought-provoking line, “Water is everything.” The film, which was shown on April 9-10 in Sweigart Auditorium, was inspired by journalist Alex Prud’homme’s book The Ripple Effect.

Directed by Jessica Yu, the film smoothly delves into the findings of experiments conducted by numerous environmental scientists and presents local community members who shared how a poor water supply has impacted them.

According to the documentary, less than 1% of the world’s water is fit for drinking. Maintaining a clean water supply has been a constant battle around the world. In parts of the Middle East, communities only get running water once a week, and some are lucky to get even that much.

Approximately 50% of the world’s hospitals care for patients with diseases related to the water they drink. Fresh water sources around the globe have been consistently declining.

While these facts may tug at some heartstrings, they may not hit home for Americans, who have a constant supply of clean water. Our taps are flowing, our pools are full and our lawns are green.

A common misconception in this country is that water is an infinite and inexhaustible resource. The United States is the country with the largest water footprint. In Nevada, the Las Vegas Strip alone uses 3% of southern Nevada’s water supply. Las Vegas pumps the water from Lake Mead directly to the expanding urban community and, as a result, the lake drops 10 feet each year. Lake Mead is at 40% of what it once was.

Though this news is disturbing, it only scrapes the surface of the issue. Lake Mead’s reservoir feeds into Hoover Dam, and when the water in the lake falls below a certain level, the dam stops generating energy. If it continues to fall at its current rate, the Hoover Dam will stop supplying energy in 2015.

California is facing water shortages as well. The state began tapping into its aquifers, which are underground water reservoirs that have been accumulating for thousands of years. The aquifers in California have dropped to shockingly low levels and are estimated to last only another 60-100 years. Water reservoirs, which took thousands of years to accumulate, have been used up in mere decades.

Where does all of this water go? In most states, farmers use 80%-90% of the water supply. Out of the small amount that makes it to homes, 50%-75% is used to water lawns. Toilets are the biggest culprits of water consumption inside of the house. In the U.S. alone, six billion gallons of water are used to flush away human waste every day.

The decline in sources for fresh water is not the only concern. Much of the water that should be available for human use is being ruined by toxic waste. Between the years of 2004-09, the Clean Water Act was violated half a million times.

There are communities in the U.S. whose tap water is not safe to drink and contains carcinogens. One such community is Hinkley, Calif. Its groundwater is contaminated with hexavalent chromium, a toxic chemical that seeped into the water from a nearby Pacific Gas & Electric compression plant. The case was dramatized in the movie Erin Brockovich, released in 2000. The community banded together to take a stand against the company, and it is slowly making progress. Though change may be slow, it is becoming increasingly necessary.

The documentary is jam-packed with information and, despite the negative subject matter, manages to be fast-paced and ultimately encouraging. While scientist Jay Famiglietti sums up the water situation with an apt, “We’re screwed,” the film itself hammers home the message to think before you drink.

Visit takepart.com/lastcall to sign a petition to conserve fresh water and fight back against those who are contaminating the water supply.

Printed in the 4/12/13 edition.

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