Jay Famiglietti, UCI Hydrologist, Hoses State's Water Future in Doc Last Call at the Oasis

Categories: Environment, Film
Jay Famiglietti
The water crisis documentary Last Call at the Oasis won an "Outstanding Achievement in Filmmaking" award at the just-concluded Newport Beach Film Festival.

Surely helping propel Academy Award winning filmmaker Jessica Yu's production, which opens in Irvine Friday, is UC Irvine hydrologist Jay Famiglietti, who appears on camera to cold you-know-what on California's water future.

"I think California is in trouble," Famiglietti says in the film. "The combination of climate change, growth and groundwater depletion spells a train wreck."

A sober scene from Last Call at the Oasis.
His plain talk prompted a Variety critic to write, "The delightfully glum hydrologist Jay Famiglietti certainly doesn't sugarcoat the topic, or our future." The San Francisco International Film Festival program note described the professor as "droll, deadpan."

Last Call at the Oasis chronicles increasing pollution, dwindling water supplies worldwide and potential solutions. Other interviewees include environmental activist Erin Brockovich and Macarthur Fellow and Pacific Institute co-founder Peter Gleick.

The film is written and directed by Yu, whose 1997 short Breathing Lessons: The Life and Work of Mark O'Brien won the Oscar. She previously had two other films roll at the Newport Beach festival, 2007's Ping Pong Playa and 2004's In the Realms of the Unreal.

Her latest opens Friday at Irvine's Edwards University Town Center, with screenings at 1:20, 4:30, 7:10 and 9:30 p.m. Famiglietti is scheduled to conduct an audience Q&A after Friday and Saturday's 7:10 p.m. shows.

His research has found humans are using up water faster than it can be replenished. Last Call at the Oasis producer Elise Pearlstein, who got an Academy Award nomination herself for Food, Inc., read newspaper articles about Famiglietti's work and enlisted him for the project.

"Elise and Jessica are extremely dedicated, wonderful storytellers and filmmakers," says Famiglietti, in a UCI statement. "The final result exceeded anything I ever could have anticipated."

Here is the trailer:

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SONGS needs to be retired.  Done correctly, nuclear power could be safe. Also less inexpensive (long term) and greener than some alternative power sources. (smaller footprint, less destructive to environment than arrays of mirrors in desert, making solar panels currently uses extremely toxic chemicals) Move plant inland onto Camp Pendleton away from tsunami danger and more protected by Marines from terrorists.

Excess heat from plant could be used in desalination process greatly reducing it's cost.Repeat with a more suitable site for Diablo Canyon.

The mindset that all growth is good since construction = jobs needs to be changed. Permits/EIR for all new development (houses, golf courses, factories) should have to show where the water will come from. Right now water a zero sum game, demand for more water  means environment (fish, a food supply) or farmers (also food supply) or industry (job supply) or existing residents will get less water.

Also more conservation needed, reuse (grey water), pricing, solution will be multi faceted.

Mindset needs to change, since water necessary for survival, access to water should be considered a right, individual needs come before industrial, recreational (think golf courses in desert) uses. Farming more complicated as food also necessary for survival. Stop subsidizing prices (lower cost per cf for farmers than for residential users), make consumers of food pay true cost, less water intensive foods will be cheaper, more water intensive more expensive, let consumers vote with dollars.   

mitch young
mitch young

'Growth' is a huge part of the problem. In California, every single bit of 'growth' is due to immigration. We have net domestic outmigration (meaning more US citizens leave California than come from other states). Americans on average limit their families to two kids. Recent immigrants and their 'birthright citizen' children are the cause of water-sucking population growth.

Also, cheap Mexican labor for 'landscapers' has exacerbated the problem. Look at the water sucking subtropical, high maintenance landscapes of South OC. If 'gardener' labor cost twice as much, we'd be seeing a lot more slow growing, water thrifty, low maintenance plants. 


We flush our toilets with very high quality drinking water.  The cost to run two plumbing systems has been fought by real estate people for decades.  Some cities now water large green areas with recycled water.  Desalination is great, but hideously expensive.  I suppose it will take water bills that hit $500 or more a month to convince people and municipalities to implement a 'grey water' infrastructure.

master bader
master bader

The trailer doesn't go into much.  Is the fear that there won't be enough for farming and agriculture?  Is there a reason more underwater or above ground reservoirs cannot be built?

Or is it that there won't be enough for people for every day use.   For every day use, it seems gross but people should be able to get used to recycled treated water.   And what about desalination plants?    It seems like most of the population is close to the coast.   Do they use too much energy or they not feasible for some other reason?

mitch young
mitch young

"Permits/EIR for all new development (houses, golf courses, factories) should have to show where the water will come from."

That's how Santa Barbara county has limited growth. They refuse to bring in more water. Used to be a bumpersticker -- "Want State Water--Move to Los Angeles".

You're wrong about 'moving San Onofre inland' , however. There's a reason they put powerplants on the coast or by rivers -- they need huge amounts of water for cooling.


 What about Mormons? We have the largest population outside of Utah and they have many many children..and why JUST Mexican immigrants, we also have the largest Vietnamese population outside of Vietnam.  I see you've touched on the ridiculous landscapes here in this desert climate, but cheap labor / landscapers wouldn't be here if we didn't create the need. Its not their fault... blame developers and corporations.   There are many contributors to the problem but using (mexican) immigrants as scapegoats doesn't really take us any step closer to solving the problem. PS. Not all brown people are from Mexico.

Matthew T. Coker
Matthew T. Coker

Aw, man, I remember in the early '80s when folks in eastern San Bernardino County tried to get such laws implemented, and besides water they added the impact of booming development on schools. Newport Beach developers and their high-priced lawyers blew that shit out of the, uh, agua.

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