In the 2012 water crisis documentary Last Call at the Oasis activist Erin Brockovich—memorably played by Julia Roberts in the eponymous biopic—stands before a packed room of sickened citizens in Midland, Texas, and flatly says, "I am telling you, Superman is not coming."
While she was referring to the Environmental Protection Agency's inability to regulate hexavalent chromium in Midland's groundwater—that's the very same petro-chemical she unearthed in Hinkley, California, in the 1990s—her tough-to-swallow warning could have very well doubled as the film's tag line.
In painting a disquieting portrait of our over-consumed and under-conserved natural resource, the film, which makes its worldwide television premiere on Pivot on Sunday, August 25, knits together many narratives—everything from the siphoning of Nevada's Lake Mead to quench Las Vegas' outsized thirst to the filthy holy water of the Middle East's Jordan River; from the bottled water habits of Westerners to the icky idea of reclaimed wastewater (translation: drinking recycled pee).
While the 15 months since the film's theatrical debut in May 2012 has certainly given us a steady stream of dour water news, there has also been a trickle of good news.
Just look at what's beginning to happen in the Colorado River.
In February, TakePart's colleagues in the Social Action division of Participant Media teamed up with the National Geographic Society and Bonneville Environmental Foundation to launch Change the Course, a campaign to replenish the once-mighty waterway. Because the river has been over-tapped for agricultural and urban use, the Colorado no longer reaches Mexico's Gulf of California.
Here's how the campaign works: After texting RIVER to 77177*, 1,000 gallons of water will be returned to the river through restoration certificates purchased by the campaign's corporate sponsors. Yes, people, it's as easy as sending a text message, something which literally takes six seconds to do!
To date, 20,700 folks have taken the pledge, translating into 20.7 million gallons of water restored to the Colorado River.
Chad Boettcher, EVP of Social Action and Advocacy at Participant Media, said, "Water is one of the global threats facing all of us. The pledges Change the Course has received from all 50 states and 105 different countries is a testament to the commitment people have made to face this issue and to do something about it."
Now, to both support the Pivot premiere of Last Call and maintain the campaign's momentum, Change the Course is unveiling a pair of quirky new water PSAs.
I won't ruin the fun for you, but let's just say that whitewater rafting and swimming in a community pool become something else entirely when a certain key ingredient is missing.
While more than 20 million gallons of returned water is quite an achievement, it is really just a start, a splash in the proverbial bucket. The ultimate goal is to reconnect the Colorado to the sea. If all goes well, this could happen in five to seven years, thanks to not just the efforts of Change the Course, but also many other nonprofit groups working toward the same goal.
All of this is to say that perhaps Brockovich's Man of Steel prognostication is wrong. Maybe we won't need a red-caped hero with superpowers to swoop in and save us from our water woes. Maybe all we'll need is a mass uprising of Clark Kents armed with nothing but good intentions and smartphones.
This article is written in connection with the "Change the Course" campaign that TakePart, through its parent company Participant Media, has forged with National Geographic and Bonneville Environmental Foundation.
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