‘Blue Gold’ – Water doco that tugs the anti-capitalism strings

By Daniel Collins 30/03/2010 1

I attended a screening of the film ‘Blue Gold: World Water Wars’ last Thursday at a fund-raising event. I had prepped myself by reading WaterWired’s review that afternoon, and so had a critical hat on. While I was very sympathetic to the review, I was not as disparaging of the film when it finished as I thought I would have been. And my head did not explode.

The film made many important points by illustrating failures to get water to the world’s thirsty, and the tensions that can arise. To Michael Campana’s list, I’ll add:
• fostering greater public understanding of their catchment
• public-private partnerships
• narrative of the Mayan collapse
• subsidence of the Omani city, Ubar, following groundwater depletion

But along side the good, there were also bad sides to the film. Most notably was the lack of balance. The target of vilification was definitely evil, greedy companies. Unfortunately, companies that succeeded in providing water well were not mentioned, and governments that dismally failed were barely mentioned. The target of criticism was clearly capitalism: the thirst for profit conflicts with people’s thirst for water. Also dubious was the choice of subtitle: “World Water Wars” – chosen, no doubt, for controversial appeal given that no wars have erupted from the documented corporate projects.

As a peer-reviewing scientist, I noticed two egregious scientific errors:
• Slovak hydrologist Dr Michal Kravcik shared his theory that groundwater pumping causes tsunamis.
• The spokeswoman for Food and Water Watch, I missed her name, claimed that the export of food contributed significantly to the loss of water from a catchment because of the actual (not virtual) water content of said food.

The film also propagated the sustainable pumping myth: that pumping groundwater at a rate equal to its recharge is sustainable. Alas, this neglects adverse effects of reduced spring flow, and augmented natural recharge by lowering the water table. There is no free lunch.

As can be inferred from the film’s content, and is reinforced by the filmmaker’s comments to criticism, its vignettes were chosen not as stepping stones to some hitherto undiscovered conclusion, but as structural supports for a previously defined conclusion.

As an advocacy piece, I believe ‘Blue Gold’ makes a valuable contribution to the broader debate on water resources management. It is not balanced, and was not designed to be. It was designed to motivate people, and it succeeded. And its last message – that people should understand the catchment or watershed they inhabit – is a sentiment that Crikey Creek utterly supports. I reside in the Chsirtchurch’s spring-fed Avon River catchment. Where do you live?

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