TRT Movie Review: Over Troubled Waters

The Fate of California is in Your Hands

By KAYLA CARPENTER, TRT Contributing Writer

Directed By Russ Fisher, Narrated By Ed Begley. Produced by Media Creations, Restore the Delta, and Open Ocean.

Over Troubled Waters is a documentary released this summer, and it’s about two things: the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, and planned multibillion-dollar water transfer project that threatens the Delta. With it making its rounds in film festivals and premieres throughout the state, I was able to make a packed premiere in Stockton.

The film starts with a scenic mountain river, and narrator’s voice booming: “In the golden state, water has always been the greatest treasure, the resource most worth fighting for and controlling.”

Cutting to a dry lakebed where Owen’s Lake once was, and then wetlands, we learn about the closed Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge. There, toxins from corporate agribusiness cause deformities in local wildlife. The message: that the powerful water interests that have changed these areas still control state water resources and politics.

For 45 minutes the film is information packed. You meet sports fisherman and Delta family farmers who are up against corporate agriculture, and plans for new $12 billion water export tunnels. Each is the size of the Panama Canal, and will divert water south from the Sacramento River, bypassing most of the Delta in the Bay Area. The impacts to the Delta region are projected to be devastating. Without freshwater coming in, saltwater takes over.

In 1982, voters overturned a similar Peripheral Canal project. The plan is back, this time as underground tunnels. After watching, my question was, with a bigger, faster, conveyance system and pumps, where will the water come from?

The water storage that feeds the Sacramento is the Shasta Dam, and the second biggest storage is the Trinity dam on the Trinity River. Caleen Sisk of the Winnemem Wintu, a tribe displaced by the Shasta dam, is one tribal interest represented in the film. She talks about the tribe’s loss of a salmon fishery and homeland.

Tom Birmingham of Westlands Water District also makes an appearance to say water diversion is not the main reason for decline in salmon. Cutting water exports, he says, is cutting jobs. Economic experts later say otherwise, with studies of the communities home to Westlands, as well as the state. With water use actually in decline in SoCal cities, despite a rises in population, the idea that tunnels are needed for drinking water is also debunked.

I give Over Troubled Waters three acorns, for talking about an issue that seems to be flying under the radar, and water troubles that may be on the horizon.

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