National Geographic Society

The dramatic decline in water levels at Lake Mead, the largest reservoir in the United States, serves as a wake up call to the world regarding water consumption.
Sandra Postel, The National Geographic Society Freshwater Fellow, shares her hopes for the future.

Project 20, National Geographic

Lac Mead, Nevada

Sandra Postel, Freshwater Fellow | National Geographic Society

Well I've always been, you know somebody who loves nature since I was a little kid, so I was always interested in doing something that would help the earth and help the planet.

And water has always been a draw for me. The rivers and the lakes, they're just beautiful, and they contain extraordinarily diverse forms of life, and they've just always been fascinating to me.

The mission of National Geographic is to inspire people to care about the planet.

Our goal is to focus on bringing rivers back to health.

And also, helping people know how they can conserve water at a very individual level.

Hoover Dam, Nevada

We generate hydroelectricity at Hoover Dam, which is the dam that creates Lake Mead, which illuminates Las Vegas and provides electricity.

These are big cities with huge populations that depend on the supply of water, as well as about a million acres of irrigated land. We have green lawns and enormous water demands that now depend on this system.

What we're seeing is, this bathtub ring indicates that the lake's been dropping. And over the last decade, Lake Mead, the level of Lake Mead has dropped a bit over a hundred feet. If the lake levels don't come back up and they continue to drop, then there's less water to supply to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to the farmers in Arizona and California, so everybody would feel that pain in some way. I think the situation here, you know, suggests that we in North America have to be concerned about water too. There's just so much we can do to conserve water and to meet our needs. And so making agriculture more efficient is extremely important.

Overton, Nevada

Hi guys.

Laura Bledsoe, Community Farmer

As far as conserving water, where we're having to pay for it on a monthly basis, water is a big issue for us, so we are definitely looking to conserve water as much as possible and watering directly at the plants.

So this has been left on probably for about two hours. I need to turn it off now. But this T-tape that was flat now, you can see, is like a tube. And here's an emitter. That helps considerably. We're not sprinkling a huge massive area.

So much of the water is being taken from the farms and from the smaller communities to feed Las Vegas. I definitely don't have a problem with everyone getting clean water to drink, but when we see these huge infrastructures and need for water for entertainment-type facilities, while we're struggling to keep water in our community, it does get your dander up a little bit.

A lot of people ask me, "What can I do? I turn off the tap when I'm brushing my teeth. What more can I do?" And there is so much more, because everything that we eat throughout the day, everything we buy, has water in it. A hamburger maybe has 600 gallons of water in it. A pair of jeans has maybe 2000 gallons of water embedded in it, for the cotton to produce the fibres, and then making the jeans in the factory. All of that adds up, and so the average American now has a water footprint of 1800 gallons per day, an enormous amount of water.

We are connected. All the water here on Earth now is all the water there ever was and ever will be. Through the cycling of water across space and time, we are linked to all of life. And as molecules of water circulate from sea to air to land, through the clouds, through the rivers, through the trees, through the frogs and fish and mussels and beetles and ants and birds and bees, and everything alive, now and then and yet to be, we are connected. Deep in our bones we know this. We have just pushed that knowing out of the way. But as the unthinkable keeps happening, as water disappears from rivers and lakes, and the aquifers beneath our feet, I believe we will begin to awaken to our kinship with water, which springs from knowing at a cellular level, that water's gift is life.

A Royal Bank of Canada Presentation
Directed by Yung Chang

Cinematographer: Van Royko

Producer: Mila Aung-Thwin

Editor: Omar Majeed
An EyeSteelFilm production in collaboration with CloudRaker