Documentary Film ‘Flow’ Sounds Alarm on Worldwide Water Shortage

“For the longest time, people have taken water for granted,” says Peter Gleick, President of the Pacific Institute. “Most people don’t think where water comes from. They just turn on the tap and they expect it to be there. Those days are ending.”

Gleick is one of many experts in Irena Salina’s documentary sounding the alarm about the dwindling water supply.

With a skeleton crew and a shoe-string budget, Salina traveled around the world to film shrinking rivers and lakes.

In just over an hour, she presents stark pictures of massive droughts, heavily polluted rivers, poor rural communities living off contaminated water. The film shows pesticides and herbicides polluting waters. Industrial waste seeping into rivers and lakes. International corporations privatizing massive bodies of water. Salina says once this water was available to everyone. Now it is harvested and sold in markets for a price.

“Water is a fundamental human right,” Salina says. “Sure, there should be a price to water when we live in rich cities. We have to make sure that our water gets cleaned. That takes money, that takes effort. But on the other hand, you have another kind of population that barely makes two dollars a week or a month. What do you do with that? You just let them die?”

There is an urgency to the documentary. The planet is running out of water and fast.

“California is running out. It’s got 20-some years of water. New Mexico has got 10, although they build golf courses as fast as they can. So, maybe they can take it down to five. Arizona, Florida, even the Great Lakes, there is huge new [water] demand,” the documentary says.

Is the film’s alarmist tone accurate? Janet Raganathan, Vice President for Science and Research at the World Resources Institute, an environmental research institute in Washington D.C., says, “It can’t be more urgent. The impact of climate change has already started. Issues of water quality and water scarcity are very much there.”

Raganathan says the major culprit is modern agriculture.

“Seventy percent of water globally is used in the agricultural sector,” she says. “The agricultural sector is also a major polluter of water. The major polluter of water in terms of the excessive use of fertilizers, nitrogen phosphate, which only a half make it to the plants. The rest of it runs into the waters creating huge dead zones.”

But there’s a silver lining. Janet Raganathan and the experts who voice their opinions in the film say the water crisis can be reversed. To do that, says Peter Gleick, local communities have to get active in controlling their water supply.

“In the 1800′s and 1700′s and going back even further in time, society lived on the resources that we’ve had,” says Gleick. “We took water when we needed it from the rivers, irrigated small scale agriculture. We captured rainfall and recharged our ground water aquifers when we could.”

This sounds like a romantic notion; a reference to a bygone era. But Irena Salina’s documentary makes a clear case: To survive, humankind has to respect and to protect nature, the very source of its existence.