Conrad Weaver 2016-12-21 23:57:51
Editor’s note: “Thirsty Land” tells the story of extreme drought, agriculture, and the water crisis in the western U.S. and how these challenges affect farmers, urban communities, and the environment. Underwritten in part by ASABE, the documentary vividly explores the depleted water resources in the American Southwest and presents one of the most urgent challenges of the 21st century facing agriculture and growing urban communities. The drought in this region has local, national, and global impacts, not only for the present but also for future generations. After the film was shown at the 2016 Annual International Meeting, viewers gave “Thirsty Land” rave reviews. The summer of 2014 was hot and dry in southwest Kansas. My wife Jodi and I had been invited to show my film, “The Great American Wheat Harvest,” at the very popular 3iShow in Dodge City. During the show, we met farmer after farmer talking about the heat and the drought that had wreaked havoc across the southern plains over the previous years. They expressed concern that a continued drought would severely limit the amount of water that farmers would be able to use to grow crops in this semi-arid part of the American West. Listening to these farmers and remembering the scenes of ankle-high wheat during the harvest of 2013 propelled me to produce the film “Thirsty Land.” In order to learn as much as possible about the current water situation in the west, we interviewed farmers, ranchers, city and state leaders, as well as scientists, meteorologists, and other climate experts from central Kansas to California’s Central Valley. Ironically, just as we began filming in southwest Kansas, it began raining there. So the story’s focus took us to California, where thousands of acres of farmland have been taken out of production and fallowed at a tremendous cost to the farmer’s bottom line, impacting jobs and local economies as well. Many California growers have been frustrated by the state “bowing” to environmental groups that demand more water for a few endangered fish species. Farmers in the Westlands Irrigation District, the largest irrigation district in the U.S., have had zero water allocation for several years and have had to fallow thousands of acres of highly productive farmland or purchase water on the open market at rates that often exceed $2,000 per acre-foot. One farmer told us, “Drought makes us think differently,” and so it does. It was amazing to see the innovation that has come out of this water shortage. One irrigation district in the Central Valley is working hard to get all of its growers to use drip irrigation systems rather than the more traditional flood irrigation. Many have made the switch, and a few are going a step farther and using subsurface drip systems. There are holdouts, but mostly because the cost of changing to drip is prohibitive for many growers. Other farmers are using state-of-the-art technology to help them better manage their water use. As A. G. Kawamura, the former California Secretary of Food and Agriculture, said, “There’s no farmer who wants to use too much or not enough water.” This desire to conserve has led one western Kansas company to design an irrigation system that marries drip technology with a center-pivot system. Monty Teeter of Teeter Irrigation (full disclosure: Teeter Irrigation is a sponsor of “Thirsty Land”) estimates that his newly patented Dragon- Line mobile drip irrigation system reduces the water needed for a crop by 20% to 50% compared to conventional sprinkler systems. These types of innovations can be found throughout the west as farmers look for ways to save as much water as possible while producing the same amount or more for a growing population. The innovations and adjustments to this new normal go beyond farming. Many cities have already built water-recycling facilities to reduce the use of potable water for landscape and agricultural irrigation. But the cost is high for these cities and states in the drought-impacted regions. In order to meet the required 25% state-mandated reduction in water use, the city of Los Angeles spent $450 million by paying residents to remove water-intensive turf and replace it with desert landscaping. Las Vegas spent more than $800 million to build a new water intake and pumping station 600 feet under Lake Mead to secure the city’s water supply for years to come. The new intake permits the Southern Nevada Water Authority to pump water even if the lake falls to “dead pond” level and can no longer supply water to Hoover Dam’s turbines. Currently, Lake Mead has fallen 147 feet and contains only 38% of its capacity. A few cities have made financial deals with farmers to purchase water that normally would be used to grow food. Colorado cities have been buying up water rights from farmers on the eastern plains, causing farms to go out of business or reduce their operations to dryland practices. “Thirsty Land” covers many of these stories and more. The film premiered at the Global Water for Food Conference in April 2016. The Water for Food Institute and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, along with ASABE and other organizations, were the sponsors of the film project. We’re currently scheduled to screen the film at a number of universities and agriculture-related events over the next several months. To view the trailer of the film and for booking information, visit www.ThirstyLandMovie.com. Conrad Weaver, President, Conjo Studios LLC, Producer and Director of “Thirsty Land,” Emmitsburg, Md., USA, firstname.lastname@example.org. Conrad’s work in documentary filmmaking has been recognized nationally. His 2014 documentary, “The Great American Wheat Harvest,” was presented a Best of NAMA award by the National Agri-Marketing Association and received a Mid-America Regional EMMY Award, while the film’s trailer received a Silver Telly Award. “The Great American Wheat Harvest” was featured on television, in theaters across the Midwest, and at film festivals in the U.S. and the Czech Republic.
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