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tv   The Wonder List With Bill Weir  CNN  April 3, 2016 10:00pm-11:01pm PDT

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♪ "whiskey is for drinking. water is for fighting." my old man loved that old quote, almost as much as he loved whiskey, water and the american west. alongside a dry ditch under a hot sun, he'd mutter it to his horse. knee deep in a mountain stream he'd whisper it to a fish. but i wonder what he'd say now,
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now that his american west has a lot less water and a lot more people. we used to dream of riding this river from the rockies to vegas right through the grand canyon. and now's my chance. now's the chance to float and wonder just how much paddling and ranching, farming and fishing and damming and building and drinking and fighting can one river take? how long can the colorado flow? my name is bill weir, and i'm a storyteller. i have reported from all over the world, and i have seen so much change, so i made a list of the most wonderful places to explore right before they change forever.
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this is "the wonder list." i've been waiting a long time for this moment. of course, long time is a relative term when you are floating the muddy colorado across the grand canyon floor. for this is a wonder millions of years in the making. millions of years of water rippling, sculpting, pounding through billion-year-old rock. but the story of this water and this ride starts much sooner. >> this is bill weir. >> only one generation back with
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a guy named bill weir. >> that's you on his horse, red. >> he was a big city detective who hated big cities. so in his 30s he quit and moved to the mountains. >> and the only job he could get was working in the nail room of a lumber yard. but he wanted to live in the mountains so badly -- >> that he was willing -- >> that he was willing to take a job like that. >> when his only son from a brief marriage would come out for the summers, bill and billy would head outdoors in search of wonder. >> it rained everyday, and i think that he is clearing up in the west. it became our catch phrase, but it never cleared up in the west. >> and i never knew how special until his accident because his will held a specific request. "have bully spread my ashes on
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sopras." >> i took this map with me because this was the same map we used when we camped up there. and i wrote down all the things that he meant to me. cowboy, carpenter, explorer, storyteller, fisherman, skydiver, stargazer, law man, husband, grandfather, and dad. a good man. "one day we're going to raft the colorado," he would say, "before it's gone." and i think of him every time i read another grim story of relentless western drought amid relentless western growth. from denver to los angeles, almost 40 million people depend on the colorado to survive. cities as far as salt lake and albuquerque take big gulps while phoenix, vegas, san diego would not exist without it.
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so this is a quest to splash and savor the best parts before another 20 million stick their straws in by the middle of this century. and we start near a gorgeous spot in the colorado rockies called devil's thumb ranch. so if people ask where is the source of the colorado river, this is it, right? >> this is it. this is the top of the river. it's 1,450 miles long. >> but the not some spring that comes out of one spot in the ground. it's a bunch of little creeks, right? >> yeah, it's a bunch of little creeks that turn into bigger rivers. >> reporter: matt rice is with american rivers. >> i love this sound so much. >> it's amazing. >> reporter: a group that tries to get folks out west to understand that water doesn't come from a tap or the supermarket. it comes from here. until it doesn't. >> i fear that we may not be able to manage our water sustainably in the right amount of time and that places like this go away and they go away
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permanently. >> reporter: he explains that over half of the water in these mountains is taken by cities from denver to colorado springs before a drop ever reaches the river. >> so somebody with denver water on the other side of the continental divide says all right, flip the gate, and this is the result? >> essentially, yes. >> and this was a babbling brook just like the other ones. >> just like the other one. exactly. >> there are now 26 ditches or pipes taking around 150 billion gallons of snow melt to the cities each year. and once it's been divert over the continental divide to the eastern side of the mountains it can never be recycled and put back into the river for use downstream. but the denver suburbs keep growing, so someone has spent a billion or two dollars more to suck more water to the east. which may sound reasonable to those folks on that side of the rockies, but it angers everybody on this side, starting with the
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boucher brothers. >> oh, yeah. snack time. >> this is slider. >> hey, slider. >> for a century their family grew wheat north of denver. until their farm was swallowed by denver. so now they grow cattle here. fed and watered by the mighty colorado. >> hard to believe i'm going to be rafting this through the grand canyon. it doesn't look like much up here. >> isn't it wild? >> yeah. >> at their reeder creek ranch the river runs through it. but that doesn't mean they own it. you see, the law of the river says first come, first served. a miner, a rancher who first put this water to use back in the old west was given rights to the same amount forever. so in the new west great granddad's senior water rights turned out to be solid gold. >> that's exactly right. in certain circumstances the
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value of the water can exceed that of the value of the land, you know, without question. >> but you have to use it or lose it. you take less, you'll get less forever. which made sense when just a few homesteaders were sharing the water. it makes no sense now. agriculture uses up to 80% of the water in the entire colorado basin. so city managers and conservation groups have often pegged farmers and ranchers as the black hats who take more water than they need. >> the thing that a lot of people need to understand is that the water that's left in the river is mostly from the water rights owned by ranchers and farmers, and if it wasn't for those water rights, it might all be in a pipe going somewhere else. >> a few years back suggesting water rights reform to a cowboy might get you punched. but the colorado is in such dire straits they are now willing to
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talk. >> what's ironic is today a lot of the conservation organizations, they've gone from trying to fight to starting to cooperate ranchers. and i think that we're open to change. i think we're open to new ways of doing business. but at the same time, i don't think that this should ever die. you know, this is how the american west was settled. it's a heck of a way to live life. >> unlike the water headed to denver, some of the same molecules that drip through bruchez hay will go back into the river, head west and course through the gills of a brown trout or two. and if there's one person who knows a lot about water molecules and brown trout, it's a guy waiting for me just down stream. >> permission to come aboard, captain. >> come on.
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♪ some days when this river's on fire there isn't a better place to fish in america. and other days not so much. >> jack bombardier was born back east, but like my old man, he came out to ski in the '80s and fell in love. >> i think this is the best section of the colorado river, where we are right now. >> you live on the last best stretch of the colorado river. >> yeah. last best stretch of the colorado river. >> he's float td a thousand
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times and has a thousand stories. >> one day i happened to look up and holy [ bleep ] there's dine staur tracks on that rock. i had a guy named fred who was a professor at the school of mines and gold who got all excited and he said send me a picture with something in it for scale and i'll show it to my friends at museum of science and we'll try to figure out what kind of critter it is. so i grabbed a can of pbr out of the cooler and i held it right up against the tracks, took a picture. mailed it to him. >> they turned out to be made by a critter older than the dinosaurs. >> one of the first things to climb out of that primordial ooze, breathe air and walk around. everything else was fish before that. you know? when you think of it in that scale, it's pretty cool. >> a mile or two later jack turns from raconteur to rower. >> whoo. here we go. >> we have a train coming overhead while we're doing this. >> awesome. good timing.
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>> they call this rapid pinball for all the boats that bounce off the train trestle. >> whoo! >> here's the tricky part. wow. look at this. go, jack. go, jack. yeah! >> he tells me that if it weren't for this train the federal government might have dammed this stretch of the colorado. so he's grateful. but he worries about derailment and dam failures and the kind of toxic mine leak that turned the nearby animus river bright orange. >> those are kind of worst case accident-type deals. but the thing that i worry about is the death from a thousand cuts. taking a little bit more water. and if denver water takes another 10%. that's the kind of thing that would kill this river slowly.
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>> right. >> even if you're not a fisherperson, it's good to be aware of how the fish are doing because they're a good barometer of the overall health of the river. get that fly maybe three feet off the bank or something. we'll cut that uphill eddy. right in that bull line right there. yep. beautiful. that's basically the fish buffet line, that little -- >> oechld got one. ha, ha, ha! >> nice. tire him out a little bit. just keep tension on that rod. sweet. >> sweet. oh. this is my first trout in -- oh, man. it's got to be 15 years. >> given the mercury levels in colorado trout these days, jack rarely eats out of the river anymore. catch and release is the norm. >> nicely done.
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>> all right. let's let him go. >> all right. put him back in the net. there's karen. hi, karen. all right. and off he goes. sweet. >> thanks for the adrenaline rush, my brother. >> the tug is the drug. >> my old man would have loved today. of course, he would have loved it a lot more teaching this little girl how to cast a fly, the way he taught me. we lived in this mobile home, and it was along this beautiful river called the roaring fork river. that was the porch that we built together. >> is that you? >> that's me. that's me. i'm too cool to like look in the camera and smile. so i'm being sullen over by the side.
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♪ never been the sort to head downtown ♪ >> my girl was in diapers the last time i drove up this valley. and my, how both have grown. ♪ it was sacred to him ♪ this american ground >> there's a whole foods and a starbucks in basalt. wow. >> you can't go home, the authors say. can't step in the same river twice. man, are they right. ♪ treasure the past ♪ it's the american way oh, man. it's gone. this was the lot right here. that's amazing. isn't it crazy how everything is so much smaller when you visit your childhood home? there are worse places to be a latchkey kid.
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this is it. i would ride my inner tube down i'd put in right there, and i'd float down. there was a big swimming hole there full of trout. i'd round the bend, hike back up, and do it again. all day. all day. and that clueless boy had no idea how precious this water is, how each drop gives so much life and is recycled so many times, trickling through farms and parks, animals and humans. >> so a single drop of water that starts way high in the rockies could be used -- >> 20 times. >> 20 times. >> yes, through seven national parks, and through hundreds of thousands of square miles of land. >> st. john will join this journey. he's another child of the river
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and he's going to explain how this tug of war over this water got started in 1922 when the upper basin states with most of the precious snowpack agreed to split their water equally with the desert dwellers downstream. one problem. when they divvied it up, they grossly overestimated how much water the colorado really holds. >> they based that calculation on one of the wettest years in recorded history. it's never reliably been at that level ever again. >> so they everypromised -- >> absolutely. >> -- by billions of gallons a year. >> right. so that's what set up this tension between upper basin and lower basin. >> to meet the demand through floods and droughts america decided it would have to dam the colorado, which really changes the life of a river. to see how we leave colorado, follow the water into utah, into one of my favorite spots on the planet. just in time for sunset.
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♪ every time i come back to arches national park i am blown away. but never as much as the first
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time. we got off work on a friday and drove through the night, slept in the bed of the pickup truck, in the ranger station parking lot with no idea what was outside around us. and then dawn breaks. we peek out, and realize that you just woke on mars or in bedrock and the flintstones are coming over for brunch. with 60 pounds of water on our backs we would wander down sandstone avenues, under arches, past gargoyles and hobgoblins of rock. and we'd get lost in the changing light.
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oh, my god. ooh. oh, my lord. look at that. back in my day, most explored the area around moab on foot. but these days it is all about the wheels. singin races mountain bikes. mark is a local guide. and together they take me to a mecca of the sport, a place called porcupine rim. >> i came here for the first time with my dad to backpack in arches. i was probably 15 years old. and after we were done he was going to buy me my first beer. you know, as a man. >> yeah, sure.
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>> and there was like one 7-eleven in moab that sold 32 coors tall boys. and now there's microbreweries. >> one of the adventure capitals of the world. like the shamani of the west. >> how did that happen? >> well, protecting these places and keeping it still backcountry experience is certainly what has made it popular with the recreationalists. >> what does that mean for the greater good for the colorado? is it more stress? is it more protection? >> certainly, you know, there's more people taking water out of the river. right? more people consuming things. but it starts to inspire a whole different category of people. and by extension, when you love something, you want to take care of it. >> it's easy to get caught up in who owns how much of that river below us. so it's easy to forget that america set aside the best real estate for we the people. the national parks, this land is your land. this land is my land. and -- oh, crap. >> [ bleep ].
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[ bleep ]. >> this one came first. and then this one. that one's not too bad. that one will be a nice shade of purple tomorrow. and then there's that one. all things considered, though, not too bad. ♪ >> sore but happy, we roll through monument valley. ancient water and wind made this place. john wayne and easy rider and the griswolds made it famous. thanks to hollywood, this is the old west. but just over the utah/arizona border stands a new monument to the new west, carved by man to conquer water. >> look at this.
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>> of the 200 dams on this river, glenn canyon is among the biggest and for river huggers like john the most hated. so if you had superpower and legal dispensation, would you take glenn canyon dam down tomorrow? >> nature's going to do it anyway. >> it was built in the '60s to create a 9 trillion-gallon savings account called lake powell. but it also created the distinctly american belief that jetskiing and booze cruising in the desert is perfectly normal and will last forever. >> they'll do anything to defend that dam and that reservoir because it's their playground. but they're going to lose it. >> john, who has spent a life floating on and fighting for the colorado, points out that there are now 50 years of sediment gunking up the works and the porous sandstone holding the dam is crumbling so badly we saw workers desperately bolting
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slabs of rock back into place. >> if there's a ten-year interruption of supply because of sediment or dam failure or extreme drought, what do these 40 million people do? >> oh, man. over there you can really see the bathtub ring in sharp relief to that red earth above. wow. look at that. it looks like chocolate vanilla layer cake. and there's an awful lot of vanilla. the water line is almost 100 feet lower than it should be. lake powell is half empty. and even freak el nino snowfalls like this winter's can't reverse the grim trend. so you've got to wonder, how long before someone proposes a new dam, maybe in a place that could hold a lot more water? a place like this. ♪
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♪ 20 years ago the average visitor spent a grand total of 17 minutes looking at the grand canyon. today it is less than 7 minutes. no denying we live in an age of more people with shorter attention spans.
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and that makes it all the harder for guys like dave to protect even america's most special places. >> this year i'm sure we're going to hit 5 million. it will be the first time we've hit 5 million visitors. so it's been crazy. >> now, does that number -- i mean, i guess that's good if you're rung an amusement park. >> right. >> but if you're trying to protect a pristine, fragile heritage site does that number scare a little bit? >> it does. it does. >> but what scares him more are the uranium miners who want to drill down there. and the italian developers who want to build a 3 million-square-foot hotel and spa a few miles from here and take a lot more water. >> here's this mega resort saying we need to come in here and we're going to, quote, need water. and they haven't declared but the most obvious is to drill a well and to take the exact water that's right here below that's coming into these seeps and springs.
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>> that butte right there is char butte. directly across from there is the confluence area. >> and another developer wants to build another mega complex on the east side, run a tram from the rim to the river and bring 2 million people a year to one of the prettiest spots in the navajo nation. some in the tribe would welcome the income, but others like renee yellowhorse see a violation of all that is sacred. >> i thought it was a joke. then came the anger, the disbelief that somebody would go to a sacred area. my people, my family's sacred area. and want to put in this circus attraction. into the grand canyon. >> i could imagine that if i grew up in a place like this and my family had been there for 10,000 years, just the sight of outsiders would make me angry.
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is are there such a thing as a good tourist as far as you're concerned? >> there are ways to work with nature where you can work with the people on the lands and have them get the benefits instead of some investors that are from scottsdale or from china or from india, wherever. it's your grand canyon. if you can hike it, hike it. if you can run the river, run the river. take your memories of a place and always leave it the way you want it for next generations to see it. >> renae's blessing is punctuated -- >> wow, look at that rainbow. >> -- by a most spectacular double rainbow. good omen. just in time to see the canyon and the river that made her in a whole new way. ♪
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these will be my companions for the next four days. folks who paid thousands and waited years. and some are wound a little tighter than others. >> this is way too loose. >> yeah, you've got to -- >> i've got three people already ragging on how i wear my life jacket. >> it's going to be fun to see how four days of heat and sand, rapids and rattlesnakes changes us. man: dear mr. danoff, my wife and i are now participating in your mutual fund. we invested in your fund
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♪ this is the float trip dad always talked about. and he would have loved the fellow leading the voyage. a guy named howdy.
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the kind of fun hog who chases powder every winter, whitewater every summer. but his first baby is on the way, so who knows how many more trips the future holds. rowing the baggage boat is joanie on her very first grand canyon float while scotty is pushing about 250 trips. >> if you add up the days, i've actually spent about ten years of my life down the water of the canyon. >> wow. >> yeah. pretty crazy, huh? >> you've made dozens of trips in your life. you're hardly an old salt, but you've got a few, right? >> this is about 65 i think on here. >> yeah. how would you describe the way your relationship with this river has evolved over all those trips? >> this place is a teacher.
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you know? it's probably the ultimate teacher. if you look at our planet like an organ system in the body, every aspect of our planet has a function, and rivers are kind of like the bloodstream. so when things change, you notice changes in the bloodstream pretty quick and we notice on the river when things change. >> to make a living down here, you have to be more than a fun junkie. you have to be a hihydrologist d geologist, a restorer. >> when the spaniards came and thought this massive river was a little creek and started hiking down it and this herr minds blown. >> those spaniards called it rio colorado, red river. though leche con chocolate would have worked just as well. and surrounded by these earth
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tones, up pops a colorful camp. some parts faster than others. >> no way this is right. >> you put it on this side. blue to blue. >> blue to blue. ah. okay. >> you see these great bigger ones? >> yeah. >> you have the crossbar. >> oh, i see. whoa. >> you're my sacagawea. >> yeah. ♪ >> once we're settled, the call of the conch announces her first lesson in waste management. >> all right. this is our honey box. >> yes, there are now so many rafters answering nature's call down here, port-a-potties are mandatory. >> when another rafting company floats by, do you wave? >> give them a big wave and a big old smile. >> but all things considered,
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these folks at oars run a pretty posh camp. >> so this gentleman rode a boat all day, then set up a kitchen on the side of the colorado river and then baked a lasagna. >> at first it's hard for some of my companions to relax and unplug. >> i turned it off. i can't say that -- >> i prefer it light. >> clueless that their head lamps are only blinding them from another river framed by rock. the milky way. ♪ sweethearts be damned ♪ i got oars in my hand ♪ they row until the day that i die ♪ >> but as the days melt past, people stop setting up their tents and just sleep between the stars and the sand. ♪ my heart will remain >> as the big muddy flows past,
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it changes us. just as surely as it changed the rock around us. ♪ the canyon grand ♪ singing this familiar refrain ♪ >> so what are the folks back home going to think when they see this? >> they're going to be totally shocked. my children especially. >> yeah? >> yeah. because i've always been afraid of heights. >> see what the river does to you? >> yeah. makes you crazy. >> whoo! >> yeah! here we go. into the unknown. >> eyes peeled for scorpions and
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rattlers, we explore the side canyons. and among the discoveries, this one really stands out. >> here are some pictographs there that are painted onto the rock. >> the spot where an ancient people made their mark before relentless drought turned them into a lost civilization. and right now to the pictographs, surveyor's marks from the 1960s. >> this is part of the surveying operation. they were going to put in a bunch more dams down here too. >> when our civilization almost dammed the grand canyon. had they been successful, everything we've seen on this trip would be 100 feet underwater and the rim of the grand canyon would be a lakeside marina. and there still probably wouldn't be enough water to go around for everyone in the west. do you think we live in a climate socially now where if someone proposed a dam right here it would get killed or it
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would get built? >> boy. i think we're like maybe 20 years ago in the '90s or that time period i think no, nobody would say that that would ever happen again. but i think we're stressing resources enough that we would certainly at a political level consider sacrificing a place like this to water, you know, more crops. >> more than anything, howdy and his crew want their passengers to understand that if we are not careful the colorado river could die. >> maybe it's a cycle. maybe it's not going to last. but if it is going to last, people have to learn to change their behavior. you know, i don't think that they should even allow lawns in southern california or las vegas, you know, or phoenix, arizona. we don't need to be putting fresh water on golf courses. we could be using recycled
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water. we could make it more efficient. we could use renewable power, which is significantly less water. so if we did all those things, it's very conceivable we could have much more water in the colorado river and we can have all the crops that we're used to. >> you could float your river and drink it too. >> that's right. and have it as a salad. >> you look at the west in the 1800s and it is inexhaustible, and by the time we get to 1910 you have barbed wire fences, railroads, cars, and these wild west shows become romantic because people want to see like a buffalo. they want to see a frontiersman. are we going make that mistake again or are we going to destroy something and then romanticize it in 30 years? or new dueling lobster tails. it's a party on every plate, and you're invited. so come in while it lasts.
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♪ grand canyon walls still surround us. but we have run out of water to raft. >> we have about an hour and 15-minute ride from here. we have some very shallow water. i don't know if you've noticed but the river's dropped about a foot and a half vertical. >> since the water is so low, the current so weak, they send a jet boat for the final leg to lake mead, where the telltale bath tubb ring is even more dramatic than lake powell's. the water is so low that the valves near hoover dam are useless. las vegas had to build what amounts to a bathtub drain so they can suck whatever's left from the bottom. from here it goes to hot tubs in hollywood, golf courses in palm springs, and tomatoes in mexico before the river dies in the
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sonoran desert 50 miles from the sea. atop hoover dam i meet two of the west's most powerful water managers. how are we supposed to feel about that? >> i think it's a wake-up call. i really do. >> for 25 years pat mulroy controlled all the water in vegas like jim lockwood runs denver water. >> when jim and i started, this was all full. and we conquered the colorado river. man had won the battle. this says no, you didn't. nature took over again. >> first, they agree that stopping population growth is impossible. so america has to grow smarter. >> people are going to come. it's part of our constitution in this country that you get to live where you want to live. what we need to do is nurture cities, make them smart, make them dense, and make them less
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dependent on sprawl. >> pat paid homeowners to dig up their lawns. just one way vegas added 400,000 people while decreasing water use by 1/3. >> but we also reuse 93% of our waste water. if it hits an urban sewer system, it's going either directly to golf courses and parks or it's coming out here and then getting reused again. >> this whole thing is like a train that's coming at you at 5 miles an hour. if you get hit it's your own fault. we know it's coming. we need to put in place the contingency plan, the emergency response plan to get ahead of that train. >> you've got to stop saying yes, we have a crisis and it's your fault. i'm innocent. it's your fault. if the system really crashes, it will be everybody's fault. >> whiskey is for drinking. water's for fighting. do you think it's still true? >> maybe ten years ago it was still true. i think now whiskey is for
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sitting across the table and sipping with someone and having a conversation that you can find collaborative solutions on how we deal with this problem. >> so you're proposing that ranchers and mayors and developers all just get liquored up. >> that's how i would do it. >> have a big party and we can solve this. >> i think that would be a great first step. . >> now more than ever i feel the need to pay respects to the guy who inspired this trip, who inspired this show. my old man hated funerals, and only had one request in his will, that i take his ashes and sprinkle them here. mount sopris. this was our mountain. we climbed it a couple times when i was a boy. and he died in the fall, so there was snow. i had to borrow his snow shoes.
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and lay him to rest up there. and the whole time up i was thinking, i wonder if he knew, if he could have imagined when he bought those snowshoes how i would be using them. i climbed along that left knife ridge there, and there's a big bowl, a beautiful alpine lake. and it was a gift. it was such a gift, that request. because when you're grieving you need something to do. and it gave me something to do and think about how lucky i was to have a dad like that. and now most people have a tombstone, but he gave me a mountain.
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i was lucky because my dad really loved me more than anything in the world. and you're lucky because i love you more than anything in the world. and those two things are related. so if you love a river or a mountain or a lake, pass it on. it might just save us all. ♪ never been the sort to head downtown ♪ ♪ too much color, too much sound ♪ ♪ my father could see this and burn it all down ♪ ♪ it was sacred to him, this american ground ♪ ♪ so raise the flag over the heart with your hand ♪ ♪ hear the call and heed the command ♪ ♪ living my life with my head in the sand ♪ ♪ praise the lord, i'm an american man ♪
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♪ praise the lord, i'm an american man ♪ love you. love you. >> love you too. -- captions by vitac -- www.vitac.com ships carrying hundreds of migrants are on their way from greece to turkey right now, day one of a controversial deal in the refugee crisis. after the deadly easter bombing in pakistan, christians seeking to express their faith without fear share their struggles. and in the u.s., a muslim family asks for an apology from an airline after he say they were kicked off a plane. hello, and welcome to our viewers here in the united states and all around the world, i'm rosemary church. thanks for joining us here on "cnn newsroom." nd

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