A Voice in the NELA Wilderness
by Christopher Nyerges
When filmmaker Samantha Bode learned that a 338-mile aqueduct brings water into Los Angeles, she decided impulsively to see it for herself by walking its entire length – from the Cascades in Sylmar at the southern terminus of the aqueduct to Mono Lake, 338 miles to the north. The result is a documentary film, The Longest Straw – a close-up look at the environmental impacts of what it takes to keep L.A. alive.
The film, which screened recently at Patagonia in Pasadena, points out that L.A.’s large and often wasteful appetite for water has consequences for people far from L.A. Bode tells their side of L.A.’s water story. The film is also personal, taking you along with Bode and her various hiking partners on a 65-day, Jack Kerouac-like journey of self-discovery.
The L.A. aqueduct was built in 1913 to bring water from the Lower Owens Valley to the exploding population of L.A. Today, 5,000 gallons of water flow south every second. Dry wells in California’s Central Valley are one of the many results of Angelenos’ voracious water appetite.
In the first few days of the hike, Bode passed by the remnants of the St. Francis dam (also known as the Francisquito Dam), whose construction was overseen by William Mulholland, the chief engineer for the L.A. Water Department in the early 1900’s. This is the dam, about 10 miles north of Santa Clarita, that failed in 1928, killing an estimated 431 people as water rushed to the sea.
Bode’s hike also takes the viewer along 15 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail that parallels the aqueduct, noting, for example, that the aqueduct flows entirely by gravity, with no pumping.
From Braley Creek to Lone Pine to Independence, the film tracks Bode’s mile-by-mile trek, with commentary on the environment and the people she meets – itinerant hikers, locals, members of the Paiute-Shoshone tribe and ranchers whose lives have been affected by the fact that L.A. owns their local water sources. One tribal member tells her: “The aqueduct is not a river. It has just one use – to move water to Los Angeles.” A real river, he says, “snakes around and there are many benefits along the way.”
The point of the film is to encourage conservation. “We need to cut out some stuff,” says Bode, who lives in Echo Park. She names local agencies that educate the public about water frugality and shares ways to use less water, such as recycling household grey water into one’s yard, landscaping with native plants and installing simple rainwater collection systems.
For more information about the film and Bode’s conservation educational efforts, visit: thelongeststraw.com
Christophe Nyerges is the author of “How to Survive Anywhere” and other books.He can be reached at Box 41834, Eagle Rock, CA 90041, or www.SchoolofSelf-Reliance.com.