I recently attended the Water Research Symposium at Oregon State University. The event featured a lot of great presentations and also included a screening of the film Who Owns Water. The full film can be purchased from Vimeo here.
In the documentary Who Owns Water, David and Michael Hanson set off on a month long canoe trip through the entire Apalachicola, Chattahoochee, and Flint (ACF) river basin located in the southeastern United States. David, who was born and raised in the Atlanta area, is a photographer and film producer that wanted to raise awareness about the water issues that are currently facing the ACF river basin. Unlike other documentaries focused on water related issues, the film did a great job of staying balanced. The film did not appear to have a specific agenda other than to raise awareness about water resources and to get people to start paying more attention to where their water comes from.
From the very beginning, the film did a great job of informing the viewer about the history that has taken place in the region. David provided some background information on the ACF river basin including details about the decades old water wars between Alabama, Georgia, and Florida. The film also pointed out that Atlanta, a very large metropolitan area located within a small watershed, relies on water from the basin for its drinking water supply. The water issues the southeast is facing were also compared to the water issues that have occurred in the western United States. One key point that really stood out to me was the fact that the southeastern United States receives far more precipitation than the West yet still faces similar water issues.
Perhaps the best part about the film was the fact that a majority of the story was told through interviews with people who live within the ACF river basin. Throughout their canoe journey, David and Michael met a lot of interesting people who had strong opinions about the water issues facing the region. One common theme that came up during interviews was that people tend to think that their state deserves more of the water and that the other states in the basin should get less. “Florida and Georgia get more than enough” was one statement made by an Alabama resident featured in the film.
The interviews featured in the film also show the disconnect that exists between people in large cities such as Atlanta and people who live along the rivers in rural areas. Many of the residents who depend on the rivers for their livelihood are not particularly happy that Atlanta uses a large amount of water from the basin.
Towards the end of the film, David and Michael make it to Apalachicola Bay, which marks the end of the ACF river basin. This portion of the film featured interviews with fishermen who make a living catching oysters in the bay. The film did a good job of explaining how oysters rely on a certain balance of freshwater and saltwater and that changes in streamflow can alter this balance. These stories had a big impact on me because they show how changes upstream can impact ecosystems and people downstream.
Overall, I thought that Who Owns Water was a great film about water. I especially liked that the film focused on the people within the basin and their opinions on what should be done in the future. I also enjoyed the panel discussion following the film and learned a lot about water resources management in the southeastern United States.