'Last Call at the Oasis': Why Time Is Running Out to Save Our Drinking Water
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For all our clean water laws, we aren't very good at enforcement. From 2004 to 2005 an investigation found that the Clean Water Act was violated more than half a million times. It's not just industry, but pesticides like atrazine, which we learn can be detected in the rain water in Minnesota when it's being applied in Kansas. In Michigan we see another awful side to Big Ag, the liquid waste from factory "farming," known as Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations. These CAFOs threaten drinking water with chemicals, antibiotics and growth hormones.
So what do we do in the face of these threats to our drinking water? Apparently we buy bottled water -- which the film details is not only potentially less safe (it has different regulations from tap water) but is environmentally destructive as well.
There are a few bright spots in the film, including strides that have been made in Singapore and other places to recycle water for drinking. (We could at least start in the U.S. by recycling water for re-use in toilet flushing, irrigation and other non potable uses.) And we get to see a hilarious behind-the-scenes look at an advertising company trying to come up with a campaign to pursuade Americans to drink recycled water. Porcelain Springs anyone?
If you don't know much about water issues, the film is an essential wake-up call. And judging from the way Americans use water, this film looks like it should have a large audience. It covers a lot of ground, but how well?
"Last Call offers a few solutions but -- except for a segment on recycled wastewater -- little about how to traverse the tangled political, social and economic pathways to achieve them. In fact, at times its 'stars' show the exasperation and resignation that comes from years spent seeing the tires spin in the same wheel ruts," writes Brett Walton at Circle of Blue. "With so many problems to choose from, some worthy candidates are excluded and some issues are insufficiently explored, but the writers make good use of the material they have selected. They explain technical issues, while never losing sight of the lives that are affected."
Overall the film is beautiful and compelling but misses the mark in one important place -- it fails to address energy in any meaningful way. There are split-second clips of tap water being lit on fire (fracking!) and what looks to be a flyover of a mountaintop removal mining site, but the filmmakers never talk in depth to any of the people who live in our energy sacrifice zones in this country. What about the devastation in Appalachia and the growing threats from fracking and tar sands extraction?
The issues of energy and water are inextricably linked. It takes energy to move and treat water and it takes water to keep our lights on and our cars running. The more we ignore the reality of our fossil-fuel addiction, the more we become tethered to a future of climate chaos -- droughts, floods and more turbulent storms. It'd be nice to see a film about U.S. water issues that starts in West Virginia, Pennsylvania or Nebraska instead of Las Vegas. This is the most significant lost opportunity in a film that will hopefully have a large reach across the country as it imparts its other important messages.
Look for a screening near you and check out the trailer below.