Film Fosters Community By Helping to Restore California Delta


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film-debut-the-delta2

By Debra Atlas
August 24, 2012

If you’ve flown into or out of the Sacramento airport, looking down you’ll see a lush river area meandering through acres of rice fields. That’s part of the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, the biggest estuary in the West Coast of North America and the focal point of the new documentary “Over Troubled Waters”.

The film, which debuted on August 9th, chronicles the complex issues surrounding California’s tug-of-war struggle for water between the north and south state. This 45-minute film – directed by Russell Fisher, exquisitely photographed by nature cinematographer Jason Sturgis, and narrated by Ed Begley, Jr. – was a three-year labor of love sourced through Restore the Delta.

Most people don’t know the degree to which water is manipulated in California, said Sturgis. “Water is a finite commodity, maybe one of the most valuable ones. But it’s something we take for granted.” Right now, Sturgis said, “the Delta is at the chopping block.”

“The Delta is the most important resource in northern California,” said Congressman George Miller (D., 7th District, California). A champion of the Delta, Miller was the recipient of Restore the Delta’s 2009 Delta Advocate Award. Speaking prior to the film’s debut, Miller presented the 2012 award to State Senator Lois Wolk who, he said, is “committed to creating a sustainable water supply.”

Over Troubled Waters chronicles the history of the Delta, which is comprised of approximately 1,100 square miles of 70 reclaimed islands and land tracts surrounded by as many miles of levees and 700 miles of waterways. The Delta encompasses six California counties: Yolo, Sacramento, Solano, San Joaquin, Contra Costa, and Alameda. Most of it is below sea level and, prior to the 1850’s, was prone to annual flooding. The building of levees created land that’s now irrigated for farming. To support the growth of farming, a series of huge dam and water projects were created over the next 100 years. These included the Central Valley Project, the State Valley Project, Shasta Dam, Oroville Dam and others. All of these projects diverted precious water from the Delta. And, as the saying goes, with each solution comes new problems.

The Delta is a nursery for small fish that then make the migration to the ocean, said Sturgis. “It’s one of the major links in the chain of life,” he said. The public has a sense that things are okay with the Delta because it looks healthy and robust. But with so much water being diverted, there are now degraded water channels, higher salinity, and eliminated in-flow.

The problems are created by a variety of sources. Invasive species are coming in through cargo ships that go through the Delta. Runoff from agriculture brings pesticides into the Delta. Since so much water is being pumped out of the Delta, it’s created degradation of the fisheries, which in turn effects their migrations and health, said Rogene Reynolds, a South Delta Advocate and fourth generation Deltan.

The only things you’ll see, said Sturgis, are the changes around you, fish dying and things not being there. “The writing will be on the wall,” he said, “but it won’t be apparent to the casual observer.”

A key impetus driving the making and timeliness of the film has been Governor Brown’s intention to create the Peripheral Tunnels. These tunnels would divert up to 67,500 gallons of water per second from the Delta, carrying the water south to the Central Valley and as far away as San Diego. The tunnels aren’t a new concept for California, or for Governor Brown. He first proposed them as a canal as SB-200 in 1980. Voters categorically voted this down that same year.

“You do not swap one area to help another,” said State Assemblyman Bill Berryhill (R, 26th Assembly District, California). But as Senator Wolk noted, “Water is about politics and power in California.”

Four million people who live and/or work in the Delta region are tied to the quality of its water. There are a lot of lives and livelihoods at stake in this, said Sturgis, both in the north and south of California. “The Delta is the legacy we’re leaving to our children, our grandchildren and our great-grandchildren,” said Assemblywoman Joan Buchannan, another speaker at the film’s debut.

The stakes are high when it comes to the Delta – more than $5 billion to be exact, according to the film. Yet it’s easy for issues like this to be put on the back burner,” Sturgis said. And the water purveyors want that to happen, he said. There’s the “don’t worry; we’ve got it under control” that we’re fed by the water agencies. “Then things get passed, tunnels get built, water gets diverted, and then things in the Delta change.”

Home to hundreds of species, including now endangered salmon and smelt, the beauty of the Delta and the lives of those people who live there are what’s truly at stake should the tunnels be built. Over Troubled Waters is a clear illustration of the danger posed by such a water project and why the fragile ecosystem of the Delta should be protected.

“Over Troubled Waters” will have additional showings in Stockton on Monday, August 20 at 7:00pm at the Empire Theater and in Los Angeles with a special appearance by Ed Begley Jr. on Tuesday, August 28 at 7:00pm at the Landmark Theater. If you’re in either of those areas, this is one film you won’t want to miss. For tickets, go to OverTroubledWaters.org.

 

For related articles, see:

California’s Troubled Waters: The Estuary vs. The Tap
How Big Is Your Water Footprint?
World Water Day: How Much Water Is on Your Plate?

© 2011 SCGH, LLC.

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