For water, it’s still Chinatown, Jake

March 11, 2009

To help prepare myself for the water series we’ve been running, I went to the movies. Or brought home a DVD, anyway. I rented “Chinatown,” the fictional 1974 Roman Polanski movie with Jack Nicholson and Faye Dunaway, which is all about the growth of Los Angeles and the search/theft for water.

 Considering that the current Las Vegas water chief, one of the most respected urban conservation advocates, is working on a much-criticized pipeline to take water from Northern Nevada at the same time Las Vegas cuts water use , this old movie may still have something to teach.

Chinatown, where the main character Jake used to work, is reviled as a place that’s just too complicated and hard to understand. Thus the phrase “Forget it, Jake. It’s Chinatown.” I took Chinatown as a metaphor for the obscurity of the water debate, and it is still complicated.

You can pick up fascinating histories and attempts to understand what’s going on, from our package, to James Powell’s “Dead Pool: Lake Powell, Global Warming, and the Future of Water in the West,” to an early foray into the subject, “Cadillac Desert: The American West and its Disappearing Water.”

But readers might find it interesting to read a short history of water engineer William Mulholland building the aqueduct for Los Angeles in “Cadillac Desert” or Wikipedia and then rent “Chinatown,” for a cultured look at the long history of water.

Photo credit: Reuters/Sam Mircovich (Storm clouds gather over Los Angeles, February 2009).

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