This week's post is brought to you by Samantha Bode, the director of The Longest Straw.
I have loved water ever since I was a child. My father, a Lutheran Pastor, would say it started with the waters of baptism. My family nickname was “Sammy SeaPup” because I would throw a fit when it was time to get out of the bath. Every day during the summer I would walk across the bridge, over the small creek in my town to the penny candy store. I would throw a rock and make a wish. I remember many days sliding down the embankment to that creek, or “crick” as we called it in Hop Bottom, Pennsylvania. I would rock hop way past the point that my mother allowed, all the way to the sheep farm three miles up-stream, or down to the open storm drain under the bridge. I never found the courage to go into the storm drain, but I knew kids that did. I was told that the other end spit you out in Nicholson, six miles south of Hop Bottom.
This love of water continued into my adult years. Crick hopping turned to river hopping, as I ran around the American South and West. I familiarized myself with the San Gabriel River, the Kern River, even the Colorado through the Grand Canyon. Soaking in the hot springs of Big Bend National Park, one foot in the Rio Grande, listening to a man peddle his wares of Spiderman dolls and scorpion statues after he had just crossed the border from Mexico. I could have floated down the turbulent chocolate milk of the Virgin River in Zion National park forever.
One day, while on a camping trip up to Mono Lake, I happened to see a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power truck pass by me. It was disorienting. I thought to myself, “Did I somehow get back to Los Angeles? No. That was definitely a LADWP truck in Lee Vining, CA, a 6 hour drive north of Los Angeles.” I stopped into the Mono Lake Committee storefront, and asked the woman behind the counter, “Why are there LADWP trucks patrolling the lake?” She looked at me with a straight face. “You don't know about the Los Angeles Aqueduct?” She dragged out some maps, and showed me a line leading from Mono Lake through the Owens Valley to the city of Los Angeles. On the way back to Los Angeles that day as we passed through the towns of Bishop, Big Pine, Independence, Lone Pine; passed the dried out Owens Lake bed, my mind was churning. Where did all the water for Los Angeles come from? Could it be that all of our water comes from the Mono Basin and Owens Valley? This started an on and off obsession with the Los Angeles Aqueduct. For the next five years, I would be working my way through the entertainment industry; the endless streams of reality shows and marketing blasts only to have this issue still nagging at the back of my mind. Every time I saw a sprinkler out of whack, a car being washed, a driveway being hosed, I would think of the small towns I passed by on my way back from Mono Lake.
A year and a half ago, on the centenary of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, I traveled to the cascades in Sylmar to see the spectacle of the man made waterfall. Angela, one of the producers of The Longest Straw, and I went to the Los Angeles Natural History Museum where they were showing an exhibit about the Los Angeles Aqueduct. I once again climbed onto my soap box to complain about how much our water has to go through to quench our thirst and water our lawns, about the people, animals, and plants we are affecting just so we can live in this Mediterranean climate (yes, the LA Basin is not a desert) comfortably. Let's just say Angela finally got sick of me bitching, and made me start doing something about it. And thus started the journey of The Longest Straw.
As the 2014 rainy season came to a close in LA, we barely got a sprinkling and the drought really started to kick into high gear. Like many people, I wanted to believe that we would never run out of water. I wanted to believe that we live in America, and Americans have the great overlord watching over them, and taking care of them. But, all of the things that I was reading, all of the people I was talking to, all of the signs from nature were telling me otherwise.
“The Bristlecone Pines are some of the oldest living things in the world. But the neat thing about them is they have tree rings, and their tree rings show that in 14,000 years we've had 10 year droughts, 20 year droughts, 50, 80 year droughts, 200 year droughts, so like this three year drought and California is suffering, I kind of go, this ain't nothing to what could happen"
That statement terrified me. That statement told me we could be in for something much larger than we could ever prepared for, something much larger than even the overlord could prepare for. As the year wore on, it got drier and drier. By the beginning of 2015, every news outlet in the United States had latched on to our drought, our California drought. Even my parents all the way in Pennsylvania finally came to believe.
When I hear about the drought on the news, or over the radio, or through the internet, there is still a wall there. A wall disconnecting me from the water. I don't need to know everything about the drought. I don't need to know the exact science behind water. For me to truly understand the feeling of the drought, I must go and stand at the freakishly low reservoir, I must talk to the my neighbors in Porterville affected by dry wells, I must inhale deeply the hot air that is void of precipitation. This is what I need to feel connected and excited. This is The Longest Straw. The Longest Straw is here to help people connect the dots between their water and the source of that water, and after those dots are connected, I believe it will be easier to see the bigger picture.
Right now, we're scared and we're trying to find a person to blame for the lack of water. Cities are turning against farmers, farmers against environmentalists, everyone has their theories about the politicians and the blame game goes round and round. (It seriously is enough to make your head spin!) But, we forget that most of the people live in Southern California with the water being imported from Northern California. The cities, the farmers, the environmentalists, we share a lot of the same water! If we were to think of it as such, as our water, we would be more apt to come together to think of ideas for it's future preservation. During this drought, I hope we will all huddle a little closer under our one water umbrella, rub some elbows, and exchange some ideas about the future of our water in California.
The past one and a half years of The Longest Straw have been a blur of interviewing people, editing videos, and planning logistics for this hike. Now, we are getting ready to actually go and DO IT! (eeekkkk!) Gratitude cannot even begin to cover what I feel for the amount of support people have shown for this film. From Mono Lake to the Owens Valley to Los Angeles, I have witnessed and been a part of the unification under one water umbrella. Through this hike up the aqueduct, I will form a greater relationship with my water, and hopefully help others to find the clarity they need to do the same.