tv Earth Focus LINKTV July 22, 2013 9:30pm-10:01pm PDT
>> today, on "earth focus," western rivers--challenges and solutions. a look at films featuring the willamette river, the l.a. river, and the colorado. coming up, on "earth focus." in the united states, we have more than 3.5 million miles of rivers. that's enough to circle the globe 140 times. rivers shape our landscapes, are home to many species, fill ou glass, and even inspire filmmakers. >> if we're going to be a society that uses rivers, and lives along them, then we do need to live in a more river-conscious way. >> seeing kids get so excited about the river is, uh, probably
the most gratifying experience that a filmmaker can have. >> they may start out pure, but pollution, urbanization, and agriculture have degraded rivers. in his upcoming film, "willamette futures," jeremy monroe looks at how everyone, from city-dweller to farmer, is connected in helping revitalize oregon's willamitte river. >> the water starts out some of the purest water on earth. crystal clear, cold. >> we have some of the best water quality coming out of the ground in the world. >> that's the type of water that we start with in our headwaters. >> the question is, as it goes downstream, what are we doing to that?
>> i guess the main motivation for this film was to sort of shine a light on this movement, this national movement to restore rivers. and we're doing that through the lens of the willamitte river, in oregon. so, the willamitte river system is a big river system in western oregon, and i think of it as oregon's big river, because it really flows through our biggest cities and our richest farmland. i think in oregon, and nationwide, there's still a question in people's mind, "what--what's the value of a river?" and we've just gone through a couple of centuries of kind of disconnecting ourselves from rivers, and we're in the process of sort of getting back to that. so, my main motivation for this film was to really shine a light on what's really a national movement to reconnect to our rivers, and to begin to restore them. i hope that people will see in this film, um, lots of examples
of how you can sort of identify yourself as living in a watershed, and living in a community of people that are connected by water. the choices that we all make in our different parts of that watershed affect each and every person. >> we are so lucky in portland to have the willamitte river. i mean, we're the bridge city. there are so many bridges, and people cross them to go downtown, and, um, i bet a lot of people don't even look down to see that the river is even still there. now in portland, the willamitte river has a really bad reputation, especially among young people, because all the things that they've heard about the river. "the river is really dirty, don't touch it, there's sewage in there." and what they don't realize is the amount of work that's been done on the river, and the accomplishments that have been made in decreasing pollution. we're doing a great job, but obviously we're not done yet. it's not going to be fixed in 5 years, or 10 years, or 15 years. it's a multigenerational effort.
you know, looking at it as a community, and as a community of neighbors, um, nobody likes a bad neighbor. so, i think that knowing that, um, all of your neighbors are doing good things for the river also encourages you to start doing good things for the river as well. i think that we're all interacting with the people that were here before us. we're interacting with history, and we're also interacting with the future of the river. >> that community of people that are actively doing the work right now to restore the willamitte river are certainly a minority, but, relative to most other places you'll go, it's a remarkable amount of people, and labor force, and time, effort, and money that's really going into this river system. in the 1990s, a measure was passed to dedicate some of the state's lottery funds to watershed and salmon restoration, and that really became sort of a seed for all these grassroots-level organizations to pop up in almost every medium or even small sized watershed. there's a paid group of people
with a budget doing projects to restore the river, to restore habitat, and that's not something you find everywhere. you will find watershed groups all over the country, but not as active and, um, i guess resourced as the organizations in oregon. >> we've been through over a hundred years of removing wood out of streams. it takes big measures to--to restore things that have changed so much. large wood basically is a--is a roughness element in a river. it interrupts flow and creates hydraulic complexity. and when you get a hydraulic complexity, you get habitat complexity. you know, things like pools, side channels, gravel bars, eddies, backwater areas, and you need that complexity to support healthy, diverse aquatic
communities. for this project, we used a couple of different methods. we pulled trees over, um, with a yarder, big trees, those pieces kind of acting as an anchor piece. and then we would bring additional pieces in with a helicopter to create kind of a log complex, or a log jam. this is all new gravel in here, and...a new red. walking up the channel, and seeing a red, a chinook red, you know, right below your--your project wood, and knowing that that gravel was only there because you placed that wood is pretty special. >> ♪ 'cause i'm almost home i'm almost home i'm almost home
i'm almost home i'm almost home ♪ >> we value things most after we lose them. and in a lot of our rivers, and especially a lot of our big rivers, we've lost a lot. and so, the last couple of generations, i think, are some of the first to really carry a consciousness of, "we can destroy things. we can destroy river systems." with that consciousness is, i hope, a desire to want to heal, and to want to make amends to those river systems. as long as we still have salmon that want to come back, and as long as we have those crystal clear headwaters, we have sort of chances to make things better. those things haven't given up on us yet. the choices that we all make in our different parts of that watershed affect each and every person. and so, there's a generation growing up in oregon right now, and actually across the nation, that gets opportunities
to be part of these projects, that's going to have a different worldview. i think what's happening in oregon right now, and some of the things that we're highlighting in the film is really one model to start to get us back to a more river-conscious living. >> while some rivers run wild, others, like the los angeles river, have been heavily urbanized. revitalizing these rivers has proven challenging. in the film "rock the boat," a kayaker fights to show that even an urban river deserves protection, and can be restored.
>> we're here to defend the right of the people of los angeles to use their own river. [screeching] >> paris has the seine. london has the thames. los angeles has the l.a. river. >> get out of the river now. >> there's a city ordinance that says you ain't supposed to be in the riverbed. >> i know, but-- >> including myself [indistinct] for not even being where they are. so, i want them all ticketed, every one of them. >> you rang? aqua-taxi? come on in!
having come from the east coast, where i learned canoeing, and the northwest, where i learned kayaking, there was some strange attraction toward the l.a. river, as kind of demented as i know that sounds. but i had a boat, and there's a 51-mile length of river, and i have this vision, i don't know why exactly, but i have this unreasonable vision to go from the beginning of the river to the end. i first got interested in the l.a. river a bit by accident in 2008. in the spring of 2008, there was a bit of a controversy that was brewing in l.a. at the time that centered around this notion of navigability, uh, as it relates to the clean water act. >> the clean water act is supposed to protect navigable waters, and the question became,
was the l.a. river and its tributaries navigable waters, and subject to the protection of the law? >> the stakes were very high. we're looking at large portions of states that could lose federal protection. >> in 2006, the supreme court, um, in a split decision, said that for a water of the u.s. to be protected under the clean water act, it had to be navigable, but they didn't specify what "navigable" means. should it be a tugboat, should it be a little paper boat? they didn't specify, so it left it up to the enforcement agencies. so in 2008, the army corps of engineers did a study of whether the l.a. river was going to be navigable, in fact, or not. so, this created a huge uproar in the environmental community in the country, because everybody realized that this was going to be, um, a landmark decision, and it was going to impact the future of all the rivers, and all the waters in the united states.
at the same time, george wolfe was planning to do this kind of tongue-in-cheek trip down the entire length of the l.a. river. so, he became a kind of pivotal question mark on whether this could be decided on a technicality, essentially. if he could prove that the river's navigable, that was all that it was going to take. but it was a kind of absurd shot in the dark. >> maybe in an hour or so from now, people in kayaks are going to be setting off down the los angeles river, on a trip supposed to promote the recreational use of the river, and also to prove that it can be navigated. joining me from the, uh, about-to-launch kayak central is george wolfe, who is coordinator of the los angeles river expedition. what is the appeal for you of the l.a. river? >> you know, water's such a fundamental thing, and dear to us, and necessary for all of us. and so, we feel like that we're just kind of, you know, fighting this fight for--for everybody, including the army corps, and the county, and the city. >> 4 out the 52 miles are
designated as "traditional navigable waterway." but they'll tell you it's perfectly navigable. but you can't put a boat in it. >> 4 being... >> right, because it's an incompatible and unsafe activity, what you're doing. >> yeah, and didn't you love that phrasing? >> i think there's an, uh, innate appeal to this notion of, you know, fighting for what people really know is theirs. >> well, and here we are, finally. ultimately, we hope that this trip will raise consciousness about the l.a. river. even on the way here, i was stuck in traffic, and i was thinking "i can't wait to get to that river..." >> [laughing] >> "and get my feet in that beautiful water." >> on your marks. get set. >> go! >> i feel like it's--uh, it's
just crazy to keep people from their rivers. you know, no matter the condition of the rivers, they deserve, uh, a fight for them, and, uh, if we have to take some of the brunt of that, then we're willing to do that. personally, what i'd like to see in the future with the l.a. river is, first of all, a river where people are engaged cleaning up the water, um, reusing it in smart ways, having it be sustainable for l.a., so we don't have to keep stealing water from upstate, and the colorado, and all these other places where we're notorious for taking our water from. if we can turn the l.a. river around, there's probably no river in the world that can't be turned around. it would be a fantastic rags-to-riches story, and would set a fantastic precedent for what other people could look to, and say, "hey, they did this in l.a." >> we have major choices to make, or they're being made for us if don't participate, which is, where are billions and billions of dollars going to be spent to bring us more water?
>> [chanting] we need water! we need water! >> california already is struggling with drought emergencies. >> is it going to be on building dams below the sierras to capture more water and send it here? which most science agrees is not going to work anymore. we're losing the snowpack. another choice that's on the table is are we going to build billions of dollars in de-sal plants? >> without water, we die. the way we're headed in the mismanagement of it, the lack of appreciation of it is setting us up to fight for that resource. i always talk to my students, and i--and i give them the example, and i ask them, "why is a diamond expensive?" and, you know, all the time they get it, it's expensive because it's rare. and we're headed that way, where water is rare, and only those who can afford it will be able to access it. >> we had a single purpose in mind when we built this project, and that was to move the water as quickly as we could to the ocean. >> we have a need for this water, and what do we do?
we water the pacific ocean with it. >> get this. in one inch of rainfall, los angeles throws away, sheds, 7.6 billion gallons of water. every time it rains an inch. let me repeat that. 7.6 billion, with a "b," gallons of water run off, rush off to the storm drains to the river every time it rains an inch. that water that we throw away, if we were to capture it, manage our landscapes efficiently, it's enough to meet at least half our needs, possibly 60% or even 70% of our needs. >> uh, you know, we've got about a foot of water, so, that's just--just enough to comfortably float down here. >> our main goal now that the film is finished is to energize communities into taking actions. >> in 1938, there was no sort of oversight to say, "how can we solve the water runoff, but
also keep the steelhead in the river? how do we build a channel that can be friendly to people, rather than just a conduit for runoff? so now we have a multi, multi, multimillion dollar challenge to try and revitalize and restore this river. >> the l.a. river is a perfect example of how we've built as much as we could harnessing the nature that was there, in ways that we felt suited our development and our industrializing mentality, and now we find ourselves in the 21st century really needing that nature, and longing for that nature, and trying to uncover it from all this modernization, and from all this cement that we loved so much in the past century. and trying to reconcile
now our modern lifestyle and our modern society with what we've created out of our nature, and how do we start to bring that back. >> whether the different agencies and people involved can pull that off is yet to be seen, but there's a lot of inertia in the l.a. community now about being able to make good on these promises. you know, the army corps got paid a lot to put in all that concrete. you know, maybe they'll make a business out of restoring the river, partly to its former form. totally awesome. oh, my god. i started in cogan--whoa, i can't speak anymore! canoga park. that's a long way, man. that's two marathons. that is no easy thing. >> whoo! hey, we're here! [cheering] >> there it is, coming around the corner. >> let's go!
>> [cheering] [indistinct chatter] >> revitalizing the l.a. river is increasingly important, as the colorado river may one day be unable to meet southern california's growing demand for water. the film "watershed" looks at efforts to save the colorado, and develop a new water ethic for the american west. >> it is said that nothing
defines a region more than a body of water. this is particularly true in the american west. the colorado river, and the tributaries that make up her basin, shaped the spirit of her settlers. "el rio colorado," the river colored red from the land she flows through, made this dry land not only livable, but irresistible to settle. even still, her famed early explorer, john wesley powell, warned that combining arid land with civilization would eventually lead to a crisis. the relentless march towards progress led to the 1922 colorado river compact and other agreements among 7 american and 2 mexican states to divvy up the water. it transformed one of the world's wildest rivers, capable of creating grand canyons, and inland seas, into the most dammed, dibbed, and diverted river basin in the world. machines supporting the needs of
30 million people. agriculture, industry, urban growth, mining, energy production, claw for their share. so much so, that the mighty colorado river of today rarely, if ever, reaches her delta in the gulf of california. with populations in the region expected to reach 50 million by 2050, temperatures rising, and precipitation patterns becoming more erratic, demand will outpace supply unless we embrace a new water ethic, one that questions not only how we use water, but how it affects the world around us. >> "watershed" is a film that is really exploring a region of the southwest of america, the colorado river plateau. and it's looking at everything that relies on the flow of that river, everything from urban water use, to farming, to energy sources, to recreation.
and what we do know is that there is an approaching shortage coming. >> i had the good fortune of going down the colorado river in 2008. this is before i knew anything about the project. and i noticed on the river every night you had to pull your boats up and tie them really tight. and i said "why do we have to do that? you know, the river is just the river, why--why does it change at night?" and i came to realize that las vegas, the lights come on, they release more water throughout the river. so, i got a sense that, "wait a second, so this is a--this is a man-made machine, this incredible canyon that we're in." and then, i think i realized shortly after that that the water in the river does not reach its end. and that was--there was a certain amount of outrage about that. the mighty colorado river does not reach its end. it was a story that i needed to tell. >> to prevent disputes over water rights, the 1922 colorado river compact divvied up the river.
the problem was allocations were based on an unusually wet period. average river flows were much less than assumed, so the compact promised more water than the river could deliver. due to climate change, the bureau of reclamation projects even greater shortages by 2050. with that, the likelihood of even greater disputes. >> i believe that we are in a period of climate change. um, other people say we're just in a sustained period of aridity, but one thing we do know is there's not as much water in the southwest right now as there has been historically. and you can hear that from scientists, and you can also hear it from navajo elders, who tell stories that were passed down generation to generation. and you put that on top of the increased impact of population, and it's a double whammy. >> 34 years from now, i think it could be bleak. i mean, there are things that could be done. the characters in the film do show us positive examples. i mean, i--i laughed with jamie,
and the other producers of the show, because they said, "we want you to do a film on water, but we want it to be a positive film." and i first signed up for that, i was like, "sure, no problem," and then i realized how difficult that is. >> you can't really change things if people aren't aware of what the issue is. so the film, in a sense, is a tool. it's just not--we're not going to be able to live the way we did in the 20th century in the west. it's simple. i mean, you know, and there's no reason to consider that alarmist or negative. it--it's a reality, and you can approach it with creativity, like these folks have. >> overall goal of the film is to get to connect the river to the sea again. the greatest river in the west doesn't reach its end right now. i personally am going to feel much better knowing that that
river does reach the sea. >> john wesley powell, the first explorer of the colorado river basin, was convinced of one thing, that the growth of civilization would be contingent on the size and health of these watersheds. with the colorado river no longer reaching her delta, and greater demand looming, perhaps powell was right. by reshaping the historical compacts that burden us, we can explore new frontiers of cooperation, conservation, and reuse. we can change how we produce food, create energy, and grow our cities to restore a mighty river's connection to the sea. all the while renewing our appreciation for a resource we have most certainly taken for granted.