WATERSHED: Must-see documentary on the once-mighty Colorado River

We got some rain this weekend, but I can still count the number of this Summer’s rainfalls on one hand. While our drought situation will affect everything from food to gas prices, it’s still only one year: Unless these conditions really becomes the “new normal,” we Midwesterners will probably continue to assume that water will be available to meet our needs (as we currently define them). Back in my old stomping grounds of the desert Southwest, though, drought conditions have been in place for more than a decade. While the warnings I remember hearing about water literally running out for places like Las Vegas haven’t come to pass, the Colorado River system is severely strained: The river that defines the region generally does not make it all the way to its delta in the Gulf of California before it dries up.

That’s a problem ecologically, but it’s also a powerful symbol of the impact humans can have on the environment when we use resources carelessly. The new documentary WATERSHED not only illustrates this vividly with images like the one above, but also argues for “a new water ethic for the New West.” Narrated by by our own Robert Redford, and produced by his son James, the film tells the stories of the once-mighty river and its reduction to a mere tool for Southwestern development, and of the people concerned about its (and their own) future. From rafters to ranchers to members of the Navajo tribe, the voices of those dependent on the Colorado’s waters form the core of this documentary. Take a look at the trailer:

WATERSHED premiered in March at the Environmental Film Festival in Washington, DC, and has numerous screenings scheduled over the next few months in the Southwest. As part of its argument for taking greater care of this critical resource, the film’s website shows visitors how to make more efficient use of water and encourages contributing to an effort to buy and retire water rights on the Colorado in order to restore its flow.

Do you depend on the Colorado River for your water? Have you lived through drought conditions in recent years? How have changes in weather and climate changed your own relationship with this natural resource? Share your stories with us.


Image credit: WATERSHED and the Redford Center