Is a glass half-full or forever empty? By Ann Hornaday Friday, May 11, 2012
Like its predecessors "An Inconvenient Truth," "Food, Inc." and "Waiting for 'Superman,'" the documentary "Last Call at the Oasis" represents nonfiction filmmaking at its most urgent, timely and stylistically smooth. As a lucid, emotionally involving portrait of the looming crisis surrounding water - supplies of which are dwindling as contamination rises - Jessica Yu's smartly constructed argument works less as a tutorial than as an infectiously impassioned call to arms.
Whether we should use those arms to turn on the tap or turn it off depends on which problem Yu and executive producer Elise Pearlstein are seeking to illuminate.
Beginning in Nevada (now the go-to geographic metaphor for American profligacy and greed), "Last Call at the Oasis" delivers the alarming news that if that city continues to irrigate its dancing fountains and casino tourists at current rates, the nearby Lake Mead will be depleted, rendering the Hoover Dam unable to generate electricity in four years. Next door in California, fishermen are fighting farmers in heated battles over the precious resource and whether to continue to water the Central Valley (where most of our produce is grown) or maintain a fragile marine ecosystem.
Meanwhile, water activist Erin Brockovich - last seen playing a waitress in her eponymous biopic starring Julia Roberts - is still battling contamination from hexavalent chromium, the carcinogen she discovered in Hinkley, Calif., in the 1990s. In "Last Call at the Oasis," Brockovich is - unbelievably - still fighting the exact same fight, this time in Midland, Tex., where she speaks to yet another "chrome six" community besieged by health problems.
The Environmental Protection Agency is broke, understaffed and dysfunctional, she announces. "I am telling you," Brockovich states flatly, "Superman is not coming."
From Texas's polluted wells to enormous cattle feeding lots in Michigan - where a heroic farmer named Lynn Henning risks harassment and threats to document their effect on her community's drinking water - and, finally, to the Jordan River itself, "Last Call at the Oasis" skillfully threads viewers through complicated scientific, environmental and geopolitical issues. Although the film features plenty of knowledgeable talking heads (much of the research is based on Alex Prud'homme's book "The Ripple Effect"), it derives its most effective drama from human stories.
Its most effective humor, too: In a canny move, Yu enlists Jack Black to help a California ad agency come up with a marketing campaign for drinking water that has been distilled from waste water, a strategy already in place in Singapore, Orange County and other localities.
The sequences featuring Black introduce a welcome, if slightly forced, note of levity to a situation that often seems paralyzingly dire. We can't conserve our way out of this, as one researcher notes. But "Last Call at the Oasis" is determined to see the glass as half-full, as it informs viewers in an endnote.
If the glass winds up empty, don't say we weren't warned.
Contains disturbing content and brief strong language.
70 pc of water pollution is caused by domestic waste
PTI | 11:05 PM,May 11,2012
Noida, May 11 (PTI) Seventy per cent of water pollution is caused by domestic waste, while the remaining is due to industries. This was revealed at a national workshop on 'Pollution Prevention Paradigm' held at Amity University today. "Around 70 per cent of water pollution is caused by domestic waste. Although the industrial waste is more complex but domestic waste has more quantum," S P Gautam, MP, Public Service Commission and Former Chairman of the Central Pollution Control Board said. Some of the topics discussed at the workshop were 'Urbanisation and Air Pollution', 'Sewage Waste and Water Contamination' and 'Current Environmental Issues and Heath Impacts'.
It’s the tail end of Drinking Water Week, when we’re supposed to celebrate the generally amazing U.S. drinking water supply, yet they’re singing the blues in California’s Central Valley and New York’s Suffolk County. The two regions may be miles away in geography and in culture, but both share one major, unfortunate commonality; namely, that their drinking water is heavily polluted by nitrates. Two separate studies (fromUniversity of California-Davis and theSuffolk County’s Department of Health Services, respectively), both out in late winter 2012, outline the troubles facing each locale.
Nitrates occur when nitrogen, primarily from sources like synthetic fertilizers, animal manure and human excrement combine with organic chemicals like ammonia to form the invisible, odorless and tasteless compound. Drinking water with elevated nitrate levels isdetrimental to human health and is associated with respiratory and reproductive system illness, some cancers, thyroid problems and even “blue baby syndrome.” From an ecological standpoint, too much nitrogen and nitrate runoff can cause eutrophication, or nutrient loading in surface and marine waters that result in algal blooms that create those notorious oxygen-starved “dead zones” and “red tides” that kill off aquatic life.
One of the most productive and intensively farmed agricultural areas in the world, the Central Valley relies greatly on fertilizer so nitrate pollution is a problem that has beenstudied extensively there. However, the UC-Davis report revealed that nitrate pollution in groundwater is increasing, and is especially acute for people living in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley regions, where an estimated 10 percent of the often impoverished2.6 million people living there are consuming nitrate-heavy drinking water. As the area’s dominant economic sector, agriculture accounts for 96 percent of total nitrate water contamination, including 54 percent from synthetic fertilizers and 33 percent from animal manure.
Making matters worse is the cumulative effect of nitrate build-up present in soils. Through water runoff and soil erosion, nitrates will continue to plague surface and groundwater for many years to come. If nitrate pollution goes on unchecked, an estimated 80 percent of those in the Tulare Lake Basin and Salinas Valley will be at risk to experience negative health and financial consequences. (For detailed coverage of the UC-Davis study and the real impact of nitrate contamination on Central Valley residents, readCalifornia Watch’s special reports.)
Whether it’s agricultural fertilizer application in the Central Valley or laissez faire attitude towards septic system disposal and residential lawn over-application in Suffolk County, loading our waters with nitrogen and nitrates creates a health risk for humans and the ecosystem alike.
3,000 miles east, in the very different setting of suburban Suffolk County, part of the New York City metro area, alarm bells went off when the Department of Health Services, which governs water quality for the county, released a draft water resources report detailing the rise in water pollution, with elevated nitrate concentrations being the greatest concern. Two features make Suffolk County’s nitrate pollution problems unusual. First, Long Island is an EPA-designated sole source aquifer, which means that all county residents receive their drinking water from the groundwater under their feet. Secondly, only about one-quarter of the 1.5 million people in Suffolk County have community or municipal wastewater systems, with the rest depending on around 400,000 septic systems buried in homeowners’ yards. It’s not difficult to grasp the source of the excessive nitrate loads when human waste is discharged from a multitude of failing underground septic systems directly into groundwater, or as the Long Island Press describes it: “Yes, Suffolk County residents are drinking the same water they flush their toilets into.”
To a great extent, faulty septic systems are the source of nitrate pollution here, but just as in the Central Valley, fertilizer runoff is also a contributor. The county’s east end farms are to blame, but so are residential lawns. In a recent GRACE-produced video, Dr. Chris Gobler, a professor at Stony Brook University’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences and a nitrogen pollution expert says, “High levels of nitrogen – associated with residential septic tanks and cesspools and fertilizer runoff from agricultural lands – in the groundwater has led to the degradation of local drinking water supplies as well as Long Island’s coastal ecosystems.”
Nitrate water contamination is a prime example of the difficulties in addressing nonpoint source pollution (where there is no single source of attributable pollution but many contributors). With numerous sources covering an often widespread area, nonpoint source pollution makes it not only difficult to track but often harder to see. This more insidious form of pollution is a stark contrast from the commonly held picture of the easily identifiable toxic nastiness gushing from an industrial plant pipe.
Yet the nitrogen and nitrate water contamination crises don’t go unnoticed. The release of these two studies have sounded the alarm in those two regions and there are at least two other recently issued reports that raise concerns, one from the European-focused Soil Association and another from the Environmental Working Group. Broader in scope, these additional reports implicate agriculture and its industrial overuse of synthetic fertilizers as the biggest culprit in the nitrogen overdose in water around the world. Without agriculture, especially industrial agriculture, stepping up to address their overwhelming contribution to the flow of nitrates, nitrogen and phosphorus into the world’s waters, there will be no remedying the situation.
Is there hope? Are there solutions to reducing nitrogen and nitrate contamination in water? Yes and yes. For agriculture there are best practices like limiting fertilizer application, the use of organic farming methods and tailwater ponds designed to capture runoff. In the case of septic systems, Maryland has taken the innovative approach of offering grants for people to upgrade their septic systems and improve nitrogen removal.
As important as it is to praise U.S. water quality during Drinking Water Week, a warning has been delivered along with these reports. Whether it’s the more-is-always-better approach of agricultural fertilizer application in the Central Valley or laissez-faire attitude towards septic system disposal and residential lawn over-application in Suffolk County, loading our waters with nitrogen and nitrates creates a health risk for humans and the ecosystem alike. Nitrates in drinking water, which often go unnoticed by those who drink it, present an unacceptable risk from coast to coast, and many places between.