"Beyond the Mirage: The Future of Water in the West," a compelling documentary film that was two years in the making, places the University of Arizona's vast expertise on water issues front and center.
The film, a production of Arizona Public Media, the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and the Water Resources Research Center, was screened in a 60-minute version before a full house at the Loft Cinema in Tucson this week. It will have its televised premiere Friday, April 15, on PBS 6 in Tucson and will premiere in metro Phoenix on KAET 8 in mid-May.
Although a water crisis has put California in the headlines across the country, the untold story is that a water shortage is dogging all of the states in the Colorado River Basin. "Beyond the Mirage" reveals new technologies and challenges old ideas through interwoven stories that connect the Colorado snowpack to the lights of Las Vegas. It presents the challenges facing — and the competition involving — the desert cities of Arizona, California and Nevada, and it introduces potential solutions being developed in Israel and China.
The "mirage" in the film's title is the perception that the supply of water is endless, and several prominent UA researchers — including
Robert Glennon, Gregg Garfin, Sharon Megdal, Connie Woodhouse and Mike Crimmins — contribute onscreen insight into the problem's history and its potential solutions. Patricia Mulroy of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, also minces no words about the serious challenges ahead.
The West's water is described in the film as a "huge plumbing system" that is interconnected — and in need of retooling from the effects of severe drought and explosive population growth. The film's message is that current levels of water use are unsustainable under the status quo.
"We are spoiled," said Glennon, a Regents' Professor in the UA's James E. Rogers College of Law, who was part of a panel discussion that followed the screening of the film. "We not only get as much water as we want, but we pay less for it than we do for cell-phone service or cable TV."
Others on the panel, which was moderated by Andrea Kelly of Arizona Public Media, were Tim Thomure, director of Tucson Water, and Cody Sheehy, who directed the film and works as video production coordinator in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.
Sheehy, whose team conducted more than 60 interviews for the project, said that making the film changed him.
"I was a layperson when I started this," he said. "I moved to Tucson only three years ago. The problems (with water) are interlocked and seem so overwhelming. ... All the solutions have trade-offs, and that's the type of conversation we need to engage in."
Glennon said "a portfolio of options" is available, including conservation, wastewater reuse and desalination, and that a combination probably will be required in the absence of what the film calls a "silver bullet."
However, getting there won't be easy.
"It will take moral courage and political will to act," Glennon said.
"Beyond the Mirage" was chosen over 20 other entries as the winner of The New Arizona Prize: Water Consciousness Challenge, a highly competitive philanthropic contest. The New Arizona Prize is an initiative of the Arizona Community Foundation, Republic Media and Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
"Beyond the Mirage" became the first recipient of the award in 2015, committing to engage the public in the reality of water in the Southwest.
For more about the project, which includes an interactive Web experience, go to www.beyondthemirage.org.