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tv   Fault Lines  Al Jazeera  August 30, 2015 9:00pm-9:31pm EDT

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18-11 win over the team. it was the largest comeback in little league series. the victor giving japan a third championship, and won in 2001 and 2012. thank you for joining us, i'm del walters in new york. back at 11. >> the colorado river. the lifeblood of the american west. from the rockies down to mexico, nearly 40 million people rely on it for water. and for some, it means a lot more than that. >> the river, to me, means homeland and our natural boundary for our people. we use it for life. we use it for livelihood. >> wahleah johns and her uncle, marshall, are from the navajo nation.
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their community has been here for centuries - and seen the river carved up over time. the colorado is now the most endangered river in america. despite record drought, the water is being used at the same rate as ever by industry and major cities across the west. >> i think it goes back to the values of american governance. how unsustainable development has been in this country and continues to be unsustainable. >> if the law of god was in place, the law of god says the water's gonna flow downhill. but what did we do? we put a dam here, there, there, and use it to push the water. making it flow uphill. phoenix should have never been developed. tuscon should have never been developed. >> as fears rise about the water running out, we're taking a journey down the colorado to
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find out who really controls this river - and why - in a time of crisis - they're taking more water than it can supply. >> what does that look like 50 to 100 years from now? i worry about the future generations. what are they gonna have? >> we're paying our lives for that. we have to pay that price so a group of people can have their american dream.
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>> on this episode of fault lines: the fight for the colorado. a vital resource in danger of dying. the first stop on our journey down the river: the hoover dam. if there's a starting point in the modern story of the colorado, it's here. built in 1935, these two and a
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half million cubic meters of concrete changed the course of the river, and american history. even today, looking up close at the hoover dam, the scale of it is just breathtaking. in the context of the 1930's, this was the most expensive project this country had ever undertaken. suddenly it was possible to divert water from the colorado to areas once considered uninhabitable. the dam made it possible to create lake mead, the largest reservoir in america, to act as a savings account for water in the west. we're heading out onto the lake with don martin. he's been sailing here for three decades - and seen it change dramatically. >> these islands right there. those were underwater. >> that entire land mass was underwater? >> yeah. that was completely underwater. just the tops of those were sticking out.
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>> when the lake was full, the water reached the top of the canyon. now all that's left is a white ring all around it. a reminder of more abundant times. >> there's two major sources of drainage, if you will. there's southern california, they're pulling that water for their crops over there. and then the central arizona project, in arizona, we're pulling water for phoenix, and then it goes all the way to tucson. so there's a lot of factors in play in what's causing this. but essentially, it's not getting recharged. >> lake mead is now at less than 40 percent capacity - the lowest level since its creation. but that hasn't stopped las vegas from pulling its share. the city already relies on two major pipelines from the lake. now it's begun working on a third. that's the lake right there, right? >> yup, the lake is just on the other side of this mountain here.
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okay. >> we wanted to know why the local water authority is building a new pipeline when the water levels in the lake already appear at a crisis point. >> one thing to keep in mind is that lake mead is doing exactly what it was intended to do. store water in wet years so it's available in dry years. we've just had a lot of dry years over the past 15. being able to install this third intake will allow us to continue accessing water even if lake mead reaches a dead-pool elevation of 900 feet. we'll continue to access that water and meet our responsibility to our two million residents and 40 million annual visitors. >> but something's gotta give. i mean you can't just keep expanding the population size with a dwindling water supply. i mean that's just not sustainable. >> that's just human nature. that really goes back to manifest destiny. it goes back to sort of, this american dream. you're going to continue to see people moving to the desert southwest. so from our perspective as water managers, it's up to us to make sure that we're able to meet the demands of our community regardless of what our numbers
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might be. >> the colorado river runs for 76 miles along the border of the navajo nation - the largest native tribe in the u.s. unlike las vegas, 40 percent of people on the reservation don't have access to running water in their homes. instead, they rely on hauling water from community wells.
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>> how many times do you have to do this? >> if we're doing work on the field, probably like two times. >> two times a day? >> two times a day. and if we're feeding the plants probably like the whole day. >> wow that's a lot of work. >> yeah. >> that's tough. >> yeah, it is. but it is. but it's life. gotta do it. >> more than 300 thousand people live on the navajo reservation. but their rights to the colorado are undefined. >> the colorado river compact brought together the states but left out the navajo nation. the navajo nation should have absolutely been part of that compact. they weren't. how do we go back and - >> try to fix that. >> fix that. >> nicole horseherder grew up in this region. she says the laws that govern water in the west have left the
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navajo with a difficult choice. >> as a nation, the navajo people have always looked at water as something that's owned collectively. do i wanna bring my people out of that mindset to share collectively the water? or do i want to propel them into the western mindset -- and to empty the rivers. is that what i want? i think that's the real struggle. there's gotta be different answers and it's all about changing the way we live, changing the way we think and changing how we view other life besides our own. >> catch more "faultlines"
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>> to understand where all the water from the colorado river is going, we wanted to see it from the sky. >> it's a nice early morning. >> yeah, looks beautiful. >> should be beautiful out. >> yeah. >> bruce gordon is a pilot and conservationist, who's been tracking the problem for the past 40 years. as the river winds south, you can see it getting smaller. >> those channels down there, is that water or is that a road? >> there's a lot of water channels going through, yeah. >> that's actually a channel of water going right through the farmland? >> uh-huh. >> yeah, you can see the line where it just starts becoming green.
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>> there's this one lifeline goin' down through the middle of this whole arid desert southwest that's pretty profound when you start to think about it. >> that's the colorado river. >> that's the colorado river. >> just north of the us-mexico border, the river takes a massive diversion. it's called the all-american canal. we went to find out where it leads. >> so this is the all american canal? >> this is the very end of the all-american canal right here. >> and what happens to the water after that? so this is now being pumped from the canal, which has in turn come from the colorado river? >> that's correct. >> vince brooke works for the imperial irrigation district, the largest consumer of colorado river water in the u.s. >> this here will clear up into the north end the valley. this'll go 40 miles. really? wow. just taking water to all the
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fields and farms? >> yes. >> wow. and how far do you think we are from the colorado river itself? >> right now probably about 83 miles. >> wow. it's amazing. >> coming here, you'd never know that california is in the middle of its worst drought since records began. the state has declared an emergency, and ordered cuts on water use for the first time. but those restrictions don't apply here. we're in the imperial valley, a community of just 450 farmers whose water rights date back generations. >> i can remember my grandfather many times saying, you know they'll come a time when we fight over every last drop of water in the river. >> ed hale is one of those farmers, who invited us on a tour of his ranch. he says the drought has created pressure to use less water. >> there's a great hue and cry to you know, reallocate,
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reallocate. i mean, what? are we gonna dry up all the agriculture so that we can have more urban sprawl? you know, is that great social policy? i don't think so. >> the local water authorities has created an incentive for äì so cities on the coast can use more. >> the way it works is i as a farmer have to go to the district and say, "you know what? i've thought up a way that i can save additional water over what i'm doin' right now. and we sign up a contract with the district. and then at the end of the year, if i have saved that amount of water, and only if, then i get paid for the water that i've saved. >> and is it a set amount that you receive back? >> $285 an acre foot. >> 285. >> and then met takes that, wheels it through their deal. and by the time it gets to the coast, that water is bringing $1,200 an acre foot. >> it's pretty profitable. >> for the water districts. >> the deal has turned colorado
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river water into a commodity, whatever the farmers don't use is sold on at a profit. >> it's not really conservation in that sense, is it? because you're not actually keeping the water in the colorado river. it's still being used. it's just being transferred. >> we are conserving the resource. we are not using as much of it. >> but it's still being consumed. just by different people. >> it's still being consumed. by different people. >> doesn't really solve the problem. >> it doesn't take care of the drought issue on the river, except you know we're not gonna solve the problem by ourselves. if you lose california agriculture, you can't replace that in the united states. you're gonna have to replace that in a third world country. and the ramificartions of that can't be foreseen, but none of them are going to be good. >> an hour's drive from ed's ranch, you can find an example of what might happen if
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the river runs dry. the salton sea was created by accident in 1905 as part of a failed effort to divert the river west. >> how adventurous are you? >> very. >> okay. >> julie londo has lived here since the mid 1980s, and seen the area around her decline. >> you can see the water used to come all the way up to the rocks there. >> all the way up to there? >> yes. >> how long ago was that? >> 10 years ago. >> wow. >> you can see the little dead fish. >> oh yes. >> they're all over the sea. there are some fresh ones. >> oh wow. >> as the lake levels have dropped, it's become increasingly tainted, collecting waste and chemical runoff from farms.
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>> so this entire sea is essentially from colorado river water, but now it's so salty that it's killing the fish in the water and washing up on the shore, and you can see them every few feet just literally lying along the sea line. with no new water coming in, the salton sea is slowly drying. the impacts becoming increasingly apparent as we traveled further east down the coast. the lakebed is now poisoned with selenium and arsenic, chemicals found in fertilizer and pesticide. dead fish wash up on these beaches every day. sometimes thousands at a time. it's a reminder of what's at stake when water becomes scarce, and a vision of a future that may not be far away.
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>> with so many interests competing for water in the west - and so much at stake - it's hard to imagine how a collective decision can be made to
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safeguard the river for future generations. but there is a federal agency that's supposed to be in charge. many people have probably never even heard of it, but the bureau of reclamation has done more to shape the water supply, landscape, and economy of the american west than possibly any other entity in this country. we've come here to speak to its commissioner. what role is there for the bureau of reclamation to at least push for federally mandated restrictions if it feels those are necessary? >> i would say that that really isn't our role. generally, it's not our role to try and dictate the uses of that water. >> whose role is it then? >> i think it's society's role. i think it would be a huge mistake for us to simply say, we know best. we're trying to balance a myriad of uses, and find the right
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balance that doesn't get us stuck in a legal battle that just goes on, and on, and on, and really doesn't lead to a solution. >> how soon do you think we should be starting to think about rewriting the law of the river, and looking at some of those laws which many say, are now outdated? >> well i'm personally not in favor of rewriting the law of the river. water rights, for better or worse, have in most cases been defined as property rights. >>but we're talking about the colorado river, it's not property. do you think there's something wrong with that? >> i don't know whether it's right or wrong. that's the way it is. i think we can deal with the issue without having to disrupt the whole system. and i think we're dealing with the issue without disrupting the whole system. >> "the system" as it works now has created a hierarchy of
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rights to water from a river that's running out. as the colorado enters mexico, the once-mighty river has been reduced to a trickle. it now no longer reaches the gulf of california. it looks like there's actually still a little bit of water flowing through this channel. so the river does continue but it's just maybe about 10 feet wide at this point. this is the colorado as it gets to mexico. as we traveled south, we met a man named yurimuri, on his way to go fishing with his sons.
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he took us to a tributary of what used to be the colorado, filled mostly by runoff from farms.
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>> in 2000, when the colorado stopped flowing to this region, yurimuri wrote a letter to the white house, accusing the u.s. of violating international law, by failing to save enough water for mexico.
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>> the letter went unanswered - and at nearly 70 years old, he's having to work harder than ever to provide for his two sons. >> some people might say, well, it looks like there's a beautiful river here. there's lots of water. so what's the problem?
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>> for some reason as she was working this is what he did. withwolf whistles). the more peep that hear the story, the true story, no matter if you know nothing about the south, you knew that was long, you thought that child was brutalized that way. before you have reconciliation, you have to have truth.