Kai Ryssdal: Here’s a little thought experiment as a way to set up this next story: Think of all the times today that you’ve used water, H2O. The stuff you drink, the main ingredient in coffee, soda, beer. The thing that comes out of the faucet and showerhead. Probably a flush or two as well. So, think. How many times today?
Then think about this. How many gallons of water you think that adds up to? Too many, according to new documentary film out today, “The Last Call at the Oasis,” directed by Jessica Yu. Welcome to the program.
Jessica Yu: Thank you for having me.
Ryssdal: This is — it’s going to sound like an improper question, but bare with me — tell me about your showers when you were a kid.
Yu: I had the bucket in the shower to save the water before it turned warm. My parents also had one of the first early water pick/water-saving shower heads and it really felt like someone was angrily spitting on you. It was not a pleasant experience.
Ryssdal: So your history with water goes way back. This is not a new thing for you.
Yu: No, but I thought somewhat smugly that I was fairly aware of water issues. And I realize now all I really knew was some drought. If you look at it, it’s issues of water quantity, water quality. It’s drought, it’s politics, it’s regulation, it’s pollution. And the hard thing is understanding how it all fits together.
Ryssdal: It’s been raining here in L.A. the past couple of days. And when I go out on my morning runs at 5:30, 6 o’clock in the morning, it’s raining and wet and has been drizzling for 72 hours and yet sprinklers are going on all over the neighborhood.
Yu: Actually and now, I have a physical reaction to seeing that and people hosing down their sidewalks. You really start to see water in everything as well as water being abused everywhere. And it’s, again, not just our showers, not just our appliances, but it’s also embedded in all the products that we buy.
Ryssdal: And you make this great comparison at some point in this movie. You say, the average swimming pool is 18,000 gallons and yet to make, what is it, 4 pounds of beef, it also takes 18,000 gallons worth of water.
Yu: And that’s a crazy equivalent.
Ryssdal: Yeah, it’s nuts.
Yu: Of course, you look at the swimming pool — you’re thinking, oh a swimming pool, that’s where the water is and not so much. It’s just not even on our radar.
Ryssdal: I actually took a look at my water bill as I was getting ready to come talk to you. And water is really cheap. It’s crazy cheap.
Yu: Thank you for bringing that up. Pricing is a great signal for people to recognize usage and to value water. So if you look at Singapore in terms of conservation, they pass on the cost to their consumers. You ask the average Singaporean what his or her water bill is and they know. In this country, again, people have this idea water should be free. Fresno just got water meters a couple of years ago.
Ryssdal: No, come on. Seriously?
Yu: They didn’t even have water meters.
Ryssdal: There’s a line of thought in the sustainability community and amongst some economists as well that at some point in the not-very-distant future, water is going to be more expensive than crude oil.
Yu: Yeah. If you look at bottled water, it already is. Right?
Ryssdal: Well, yeah. Exactly.
Yu: There were some revelations in the making of this film that stunned me, that made me think there’s a business as usual ending milestones that are not that far ahead. Take the example of the dropping levels in Lake Mead. There is a measurable…
Ryssdal: You can see it, right? They have that bathtub ring around there where it’s dropped 20-30, whatever feet.
Yu: And if it gets down to 1050, Hoover Dam will no longer generate electricity.
Ryssdal: Oh, is that right? Wow.
Yu: So we’re not too far away from that. But to keep the levels up in Lake Mead, there have been some releases for water from Lake Powell. I’ve had this fantasy that if I were king, I would turn off the water for five minutes once a week.
Ryssdal: Just to see what happens, right? Just to show people.
Yu: Just to see what happens. Right. I think there’s almost a failure of imagination. We cannot imagine a time when we won’t have water fully available to us.
Ryssdal: Jessica Yu, her new film is called “Last Call at the Oasis.” Thanks a lot for coming in.
Yu: Thanks for having me.
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