Las Vegas and its chief water czar play a prominent role in a new documentary that begins at the Bellagio fountains and spins outward to water flash points around the world.
Southern Nevada Water Authority General Manager Pat Mulroy discusses coming conflict on the Colorado River and her agency's plans to siphon groundwater from across the eastern part of the state in "Last Call at the Oasis," which opens Friday in Las Vegas.
The 100-minute look at global water conflict and cooperation was written and directed by Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker Jessica Yu.
In a phone interview Wednesday, Yu said the threats to the world's finite supply of fresh water are varied and imminent, but public awareness of the problem is low. The film uses Las Vegas as a familiar jumping-off point to explore the effects of population growth, pollution, waste and climate change around the globe.
The picture it paints of Southern Nevada's water future is pretty bleak. One animation shows the retreat of Lake Mead to the historic low it hit in November 2010.
Another shows the reservoir drain away completely, leaving only a bleached bed of blowing dust.
"If we don't do anything, Las Vegas is a dead city - period, full stop," says Tim Barnett, a researcher for the Scripps Institution of Oceanography.
In her scenes, Mulroy says it is now a question of when - not if - Lake Mead will shrink low enough to silence the generators at Hoover Dam and shut down one of the water intakes that serves Las Vegas.
When that day comes, "it's going to be about Western survival," she says. "And we'll want to fight, but we can't. We can't afford that war."
As for the water authority's controversial, multibillion-dollar pipeline to eastern Nevada, Mulroy calls it "a project out of sheer desperation because there's nothing else available."
Her comments are countered by residents in tiny Baker, the White Pine County town 300 miles north of Las Vegas that has become the center of opposition to the pipeline.
The documentary goes on to chronicle water issues from Michigan to the Middle East, Australia to California's San Joaquin Valley. Prominent voices in the film include activist Erin Brockovich, author Alex Prud'homme, California water expert Jay Famiglietti, and environmentalist Peter Gleick, who testified against the water authority's pipeline project during a hearing in Carson City last year.
ATO pictures premiered "Last Call at the Oasis" in New York and Los Angeles last week.
The documentary is set for release in Las Vegas, San Francisco and Washington, D.C., on Friday, with other cities to follow after that.
"It's an uphill battle bringing out a water documentary during 'Avengers' week," Yu said with a laugh.
The film comes on the heels of "Watershed," a documentary produced by Robert Redford and his son, James, about efforts to restore the flow of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California.
Mulroy was not interviewed for that film, but she was featured in a 2005 documentary about world water issues called "Running Dry."
Yu insists she wasn't picking on Las Vegas with her film. When talking about water, it's just a good place to start.
"It's a slow-moving crisis in a lot of ways," Yu said. "That's why the decline of Lake Mead is so useful."
As author Robert Glennon puts it in the documentary, "It's easy to point the finger at Vegas. But when you look at the future of growth and water, we're all Vegas."
Contact reporter Henry Brean at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0350.