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Filmmaker advocates better planning to confront Southwest’s water problems

November 11th, 2013 | by Ian James | Comments

Filmmaker Jim Thebaut looks at Southern California’s water situation and sees major crises that could be addressed through better planning.

Thebaut explored the region’s water problems and potential solutions in the 2008 film “The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry?” On Tuesday in Los Angeles, a screening of the film will lead off a panel discussion with water managers and experts where Thebaut will serve as moderator.

Thebaut says he thinks one of the big problems in the U.S. is that utilities have long provided water at very low cost, and as a result many people tend to take water for granted – even as water supplies have been strained by growing populations and as pumping of groundwater has depleted aquifers.

“Government and elected officials really think in short-term increments, and I don’t think there is really a long-term view of how to deal with the issues,” Thebaut said in a telephone interview.

“One of the biggest problems is that we don’t have any plan. We don’t plan. We do piecemeal planning, but we don’t think in terms of regional planning,” said Thebaut, who leads the nonprofit The Chronicles Group.

He said the Coachella Valley offers an example of a place where there hasn’t been sufficient planning.

“Why would we be using groundwater in the Palm Springs area to the detriment of the valley?” Thebaut asked, pointing out that the ground level has sunk in parts of the valley due to heavy pumping of groundwater.

His 2008 film included an interview with then-Congresswoman Mary Bono about the pumping of groundwater in the Coachella Valley.

In a series of articles in September, The Desert Sun documented significant declines in water levels in the aquifer despite deliveries of imported Colorado River water.

Looking at problems of water scarcity elsewhere in the world, Thebaut has begun work on another film that will include segments about places such as the Horn of Africa, India and Yemen.

After years of researching water problems in the United States and elsewhere, Thebaut said one of his takeaways has been that “we should be doing major environmental planning everywhere – the state, the nation.”

More information about Tuesday’s panel discussion in Los Angeles is available on this website.

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