"Killing the Colorado" Tells the True Story of the American West's Crippling Water Crisis

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27 July 2016
Killing the Colorado
Photo: Courtesy of Discovery
"Killing the Colorado" 
Premieres Thursday, August 4 at 9 PM ET/PT on Discovery Channel
          Water: once an abundant necessity is now a scarce and complex commodity. Many efforts have been made to curb excessive water use in the West, but will taking shorter showers and ripping out lawns really make a difference? While recent drought conditions have diminished the once-mighty Colorado River—the source of the vast majority of the West’s water, experts are now wondering whether the most severe shortages have been caused not by weather or consumer choices but by short-sighted policies and poor planning. Did we engineer our way into this crisis? Can we engineer our way out?
          From Academy Award®-winning filmmakers Rob Epstein, Jeffrey Friedman, Barbara Kopple, Alan and Susan Raymond, and Sundance Award-winning director Jesse Moss, “KILLING THE COLORADO” is a glimpse into the serious manmade water shortage that threatens the very existence of the American West. Presented in association with ProPublica and based on reporter Abrahm Lustgarten’s award-winning series of the same name, the film presents the grim reality that 40 million Americans could soon be without enough water and proposes innovative solutions to preserve this precious resource for future generations. “KILLING THE COLORADO” features compelling insights from senior research scientists, water resource experts, federal government officials, industrial farmers, and state leaders at the forefront of the water crisis, including Gov. John Hickenlooper (CO-D), Sen. Jeff Flake (AZ-R), and Mike O’Connor, U.S Deputy Secretary of the Interior. 
          Over the last century, declining water resources in the western United States have become more prominent as tensions between old laws and modern needs grow. Western residents rely on several water systems, but the Colorado River is paramount, supplying 40 million people in seven states. With unprecedented levels of demand for water as the arid West has blossomed with agriculture and undergone a population explosion, water is often transported across state boundaries to satisfy the thirst of desert denizens and irrigate the farms that provide the majority America’s food supply.

          The depletion of water resources is a daunting reality: even if the drought in the West were to end today it would take years to restore exhausted reservoirs and groundwater. And the increase in demand isn’t going away, as cities from San Diego to Denver continue to expand and we remain dependent on California produce to feed the nation. As a result, everyone from policymakers to Wall Street traders will be forced to innovate, creating new systems to protect and preserve this precious resource, creating sustainable models that can be broadly replicated as water becomes scarcer across the globe.

          “Whether you’re looking at the water in the Everglades, South Georgia, or upstate New York, everyone is going to have water problems and water challenges in one way or another and [they] are going to have to address them in different ways,” said Gov. John Hickenlooper. “The West is really just the first cutting edge of this, but ultimately, the lessons we learn out here are going to have direct application to most of [the United States].”
          “KILLING THE COLORADO” explores three intersecting issues that together explain how the serious water crisis in the West came to be and what needs to change to prevent a future catastrophe:
  • Conflicts between agricultural and urban demand for water have escalated as the water supply has dried up. Farms in the Imperial Valley of California are working together with San Diego to solve this problem, but solutions that work for all are hard to come by.
  • Western infrastructure, like dams and canals, has made desert agriculture and urban oases like Las Vegas possible. But such projects are also hugely inefficient, losing millions of gallons of water to seepage and evaporation. Battles over new projects are simmering. Will we get it right?
  • Traders have bought and sold water rights for decades, with mixed results for the people who rely on that water. But now Wall Street is getting involved in the process with innovative methods and promising results, presenting a possible solution to localized water shortages and helping move water where it’s needed most. Can the profit motive benefit the common good?
          “Killing The Colorado” premieres August 4th at 9PM exclusively on Discovery Channel. It will also be available on Discovery.com, Discovery Go, and Discovery On Demand on August 5th.
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