River's End

Available on Video On Demand (VOD) Nov. 2.

THE PLOT:

Writer/director Jacob Morrison delves into the convoluted history of California’s water system. From forceable removal of native American tribes all the way to the modern political maneuverings – showing that the thirst for California water is growing as the environmental repercussions grow as well.

KENT’S TAKE:

“River’s End: California’s Latest Water War” begins to outline the history of California’s water – its use, its manipulation and its disappearance.

California’s water wars are probably the least understood and most complex system in the world. As dry areas get drier and wet areas get wetter, it becomes imperative that we change our outdated methods of conservation and usage to meet the changing climate.

Population demands for water are outstripping the resources, as cities battle agricultural firms for their piece of an ever-shrinking pie.

The far western states are in a deep drought and drastic water-saving methods are being enacted. Residents are replacing their lawns with astro-turf, pools cannot be filled, toilets can be flushed every once in a while. Citizens are forced to conserve while agricultural companies are not.

Metropolitan areas use 20% of California’s water, while agriculture uses 80%, showing both the power of agricultural companies and the long-standing water rights agreements that began this war.

This story is essentially a tale of two rivers and their associated deltas. The Sacramento River and San Joaquin River traverse the state and are used to supply its inhabitants, but so much water is now pulled from these rivers that some areas are totally dry. No fresh water reaches the San Francisco Bay anymore. Plans to build pipelines to pump water from the north to the south have created additional focus for resident’s anger and frustration.

Farmers argue that their water rights are being trumped by municipal rights and those of large agricultural conglomerates, while others complain that farmers and Big Agri are growing thirsty crops like Almonds which require an inordinate amount of water.

Both are correct. Add to this environmental scientists and conservationists who decry the destruction of whole ecosystems for the sake of supplying farms with water to grow crops that are exported around the world or for overpopulated cities that waste precious water.

Although we live in the Midwest, this water war does effect us. California grows a large percentage of the country’s fruits and vegetables and the water conditions are getting worse. Colorado also has a history of water problems and as the drought conditions spread eastward, we could very quickly find ourselves in a similar war.

Doing a bit of research, I discovered that Almonds require 1,900 gallons of water to grow one pound of the nut. Compare this to apples, grapes and kiwis at less than 100 gallons/pound, tomatoes at 26 gallons/pound. Beef is as thirsty as almonds at 1,847 gallons/pound, pork at 718 gallons/pound and chicken at 518 gallons/pound.

While many in the film argue that almonds should not be grown for export using California water, it is not offered that 80% of all domestic almonds are grown in California. Ten percent of the state’s water is used for growing almonds – a drenching price for one crop.

As the convoluted history of California’s water unfolds, the complexity of the warring groups – big agriculture, environmentalists, climate scientists, small farmers, politicians and cities all offer explanations for their water needs. However, the disappointing fact is that this documentary can only call for these groups to begin discussing water usage in an attempt to lay groundwork for future solutions. Also, the narrative begins to turn political when Republican Congressmen are shown to support Big Agri or cities while seemingly ignoring small farmers and climate scientists, while Democrat, Gov. Newsom, has enacted his own water pipeline system that environmentalists and northern farmers reject, is barely mentioned.

If this documentary is to serve as a wakeup call, director Jacob Morrison should balance the narrative revealing that both sides of the political fence are either exacerbating the problem or worsening the situation with inaction or a self-serving perspective. This problem can only be solved with compromise and from the narrative offered here, all parties are a long way off.

“River’s End: California’s Latest Water War” is an eye-opening documentary showing the warping nature of political power and money as California begins to drown in its own scorched earth history.