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Heroes

One filmmaker walked 400 miles to show just how ridiculous L.A.'s water problem really is.

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Gates Foundation

Filmmaker Samantha Bode was camping in Northern California when she noticed something strange.

A group of industrial utility vehicles bearing the markings of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power were parked near Mono Lake — despite the fact that they were some 350 miles from the city of Los Angeles itself.

As a recent L.A. transplant herself, Samantha couldn’t sate her curiosity. “It was disorienting,” she wrote in a blog post. “I thought to myself, ‘Did I somehow get back to Los Angeles? No. That was definitely an LADWP truck in Lee Vining, California — a six-hour drive north of Los Angeles.’”


Samantha Bode. All photos by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

She began to ask around, and that's when she learned about the Los Angeles Aqueduct — the 338-mile-long pipeline that imports the city's water from Northern California.

“I was amazed and appalled to learn that Los Angeles could only be a bustling metropolis because of an extensive network of imported water,” she told Upworthy over email. “I was even more amazed and appalled by how few Angelenos seemed to know about the origins of the water that goes to quench their thirst, cleanse their bodies, and, ultimately, create our city into the habitable place that we now benefit from.”

Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Samantha had always felt a strong connection to the land. There was comfort in knowing the water that gave life to everything came right from the well in her backyard.

It makes sense, then, that LA’s aquatic instability might cause her even more concern.

“Every time I saw a sprinkler out of whack, a car being washed, a driveway being hosed, I would think of the small towns I passed by on my way back from Mono Lake," Samantha wrote on her blog.

As poor cities like Flint, Michigan, suffer through water crises that threaten health and hygiene, most Angelenos remain blissfully unaware of their own tenuous situation — and money might not save them from that very same fate. It's startling to think that a major American city like Los Angeles could be so unsustainable that its very lifeblood would have to be imported in order for it to thrive.

Photo by Samantha Bode/"The Longest Straw." Used with permission.

So in summer 2015, Samantha packed her camping gear and camera and hit the trails to document the 400-mile journey from Los Angeles to Mono Lake, where L.A. gets more than one-third of its water.

Samantha’s two-month journey took her across the Mojave Desert, through underground tunnels, and over sheer cliffs — all to spread the word of L.A.’s increasingly bleak water crisis.

“If you ever need to gain a deep appreciation for water, hike through the Mojave Desert in 100 degree heat,” Samantha said in a press release. She expanded on this for Upworthy: “We would start hiking at 5 AM and stop at 11 AM, when we would build a shade shelter by stringing up a tarp to available plants. We would hunker down there, staring at lizards or each other, playing cards as the tarp whipped against our heads in the wind. At 4 PM, we would hike for a few more hours until sunset, counting every sip of water we took along the way."

With help from her friend and film producer Angela Jorgensen, she stashed five-gallon caches of water at convenient(ish) spots along the trail just to keep herself alive. “At every water cache, I would say a little prayer that no thirsty animal or gun crazed target shooter would ruin our cache. This is TMI, but I usually only peed once a day.”

Over the course of her 65-day hike, Samantha spoke with people connected to the water and land, and she's turning their collective stories into the full-length documentary film “The Longest Straw.”

Samantha and the rest of her production team plan to use their film to raise awareness about L.A.’s real water problems — and to empower the government and environmental groups to find alternative local water sources. This includes extensive stormwater capture systems, better wastewater treatment, and free or discounted “gray water” installations, to encourage residents to repurpose their lightly used bath, hand washing, or dish water.

The finished film will also be shown at film festivals in the Los Angeles area, and the production team plans to do some educational outreach at local elementary schools as well.

“I hope that by viewing 'The Longest Straw,' people will come away with a greater sense of unity with the people of the Owens Valley and Mono Basin, and therefore a greater sense of responsibility for that water as a shared resource,” Samantha said. “If the people of Los Angeles, the Owens Valley, and the Mono Basin all stand together with a unified voice, we have a better chance at ensuring the future sustainability of Owens Valley and Mono Basin water for all.”

Whether or not you live in Los Angeles, "The Longest Straw" website has lots of excellent resources for making your water consumption more sustainable — though you might be shocked to find just how much water it takes to make all your favorite things. There are also links to support the film and its educational outreach.

Here’s the first official trailer for the upcoming documentary:
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