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Water Documentary Featuring SNRI Researchers to Premiere in Merced

September 11, 2017

A full-length documentary highlighting the relationship between water, food security and, ultimately, global security, features UC Merced researchers and is scheduled to premiere Sept. 14 in downtown Merced.

“Beyond the Brink,” a new film from accomplished writer, producer and director Jim Thebaut, aims to show the interconnectedness of water and food scarcity, climate change and national security. In it, he interviews researchers from around the state and the University of California, including UC Merced School of Engineering professors and water experts Roger Bales, Martha Conklin and Joshua Viers.

“Who’s a more reliable source than the UC?” asked Thebaut, a graduate of UCLA and University of Washington, and the CEO of The Chronicles Group, a nonprofit dedicated to providing visual and educational records for the public about profound issues facing the 21st century. 

Thebaut, a regional environmental planner who wrote the country’s first environmental impact statement, has made several documentaries including “A Tale of Two Cities,” comparing Seattle and Los Angeles. His work has focused on water for several years now.

His films “The American Southwest: Are We Running Dry?” and “Running Dry, The Cold War and Beyond” have been well received by scholars and policy makers. “Running Dry” prompted lawmakers to author the Paul Simon Water for the Poor Act, in honor of former Illinois Sen. Paul Simon, who foresaw and wrote about the coming global water crisis, especially for vulnerable populations. The act requires that the U.S. oversee USAID water, sanitation and hygiene programs and expand the program in high-priority countries.

He approached UC Merced in part because of UC Water, which Conklin, Viers and Bales co-lead. The intercampus research initiative is designed to study and generate solutions to California’s water challenges. But the implications of the work could have a much farther reach.

“If you look at the Central Valley, you can apply what’s happening here to other regions around the world,” Thebaut said. “There are many such Mediterranean climates around the globe.”

The film will delve into water from the peaks of the Sierra Nevada — California’s natural reservoir — to the aquifers of the Valley floor, touching on forest management, water information, agriculture, restoration of groundwater, subsidence, desalination, drought, public health and national security.

“If I do it the way I want to, people will pay attention,” the filmmaker said. “The ultimate goal is to have an impact on public policy.”