The film then cuts to images of water-scarce populations in the world: crowds of people at water tankers, stricken children, news reports of drought in the Middle East, Brazil, China, Spain.
The images are heart-wrenching and alarming … and so are the ones that come next, which are all in the U.S. Water parks, golf courses, car washes, triple shower heads, outside misters — all point to our folly when it comes to water.
We live with a false sense of water abundance and it may be our great undoing. Even though the film opens with Brockovich’s prophecy that water is more valuable than oil, Last Call at the Oasis mostly focuses on how we’ve yet to grasp this news. The film, which is the latest from Participant Media (Inconvenient Truth, Food Inc., Waiting for Superman), delves into our addiction to limitless growth, our blindness to pressures from global warming, and the free pass that industry and agriculture get to pollute.
The narrative of the film, which is directed by Jessica Yu, is driven by interviews, historical footage and some outstanding cinematography. We’re taken to Las Vegas, so often the starting point for discussions of our impending water crisis. We see a receding Lake Mead, learn that Hoover Dam may be close to losing its ability to generate power as water levels drop, and that the intake valve for Las Vegas’ water supply may soon be sucking air.
We hear from Pat Mulroy, Las Vegas’ infamous water manager, about a plan for the city to pipe water over 250 miles from a small agricultural community. The town of Baker, population 150, looks to be on the sacrificial altar for Sin City. As Mulroy says, it is a “project out of sheer desperation.” But that will be little consolation to the folks in Baker. Or to the rest of us. Because what we learn next is that “we’re all Vegas.”
Phoenix and LA also face water pressures, as the Colorado River strains to meet growing demands. The film shows hotspots like the California’s Central Valley, where 7 million acres of irrigated agriculture have turned near desert into the source of one-quarter of the nation’s food — at a steep environmental price.