An eye-opening new documentary airing on the Discovery channel this week paints a devastating portrait of America’s water crisis.
Directed by five Academy-Award winners, the four-part series “Killing the Colorado,” points to a future of soaring water prices and shows why more than 40 million Americans could soon be without access to safe and affordable drinking water.
“The tragedy in Flint, Michigan, is only one example. This is just the beginning of things to come,” said Susan Raymond, one of the filmmakers behind the project. “We’ve been asleep at the wheel. Our infrastructure is crumbling and we’re going to have more and more Flints. We’re all going to have to deal with this disaster.”
The series, which premieres on Aug. 4, is based on the Pulitzer-nominated ProPublica series by journalist Abrahm Lustgarten that raised questions about the root causes behind the water shortage in the West, asking whether it is the fault of draconian water laws, short-sighted politicians, farmers, engineers or Wall Street private equity firms coming in to buy up water rights.
“In my experience and reporting, most people don’t think a lot about the availability of the water they rely on every day, and they certainly don’t think that they might one day lose access to it,” Lustgarten told FOX411. “If they did, losing access because water became so expensive that they could not afford to buy it is probably the last reason they would expect to hear.”
Foreshadowing doom and drought in the American West is nothing new and dates all the way back to the late 19th Century when the one-armed Civil War hero John Wesley Powell explored the length of the Colorado River and returned to predict that it would be an insufficient source of water in the years to come.
The Colorado River is responsible for providing seven states and 40 million people with water, not to mention irrigating the agriculture that provides a large portion of America’s food supply. The river is quickly being depleted as demand for water in the region increases, due mainly to population growth.
“The West is really just the first cutting edge of this, but ultimately, the lessons we learn out here are going to have direct application to most of [the United States],” Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper says in the documentary. “[The Colorado River] supplies either some or all of [the] water for about one out of ten Americans. And the fact that there’s not enough of it and there never will be enough of it creates divisive conflict,”
“Killing the Colorado” also pulls back the curtain on the world of water traders, Wall Street bigwigs who are turning water into a commodity that can be bought and sold like oil.
“America can no longer count on getting clean and safe water for free anymore,” filmmaker Alan Raymond told FOX411. “It irks people that water has become like oil, a commodity. Every time we told people what we’re doing [with the film] we would get an instant negative reaction. People have this idea that water should be free, but those days are coming to an end.”
The concept of water trading is nothing new. It’s been happening for decades here in America, and has proven successful in Australia. But “Killing the Colorado,” shows both sides of the story, including how the desire for profit could drive up prices at the tap or fix a problem politicians are reluctant to touch.
Plenty of farmers are opposed to the privatization of water rights, and with good reason. They’re able to point to the devastation of Crowley, Colorado, a town of barren pastures and economic wreckage that dried up after selling off its water rights to the highest bidder, a controversial example of what are often referred to as “high and dry” deals.
“It’s a big and complicated issue,” according to Raymond. “All people, from consumers to farmers, are going to have to come to accept that eventually they will pay more for water.”