Water Undone: The Effort to Save the Puyallup River Watershed

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Documentary urges saving Puget Sound watersheds, starting with the Puyallup river's.An hour-long documentary written, produced and filmed by UW Tacoma faculty, staff and students, lays out the case: To clean up Puget Sound, start with the watersheds.

The Puyallup River watershed, a major source of fresh water into Puget Sound through Commencement Bay in Tacoma, suffers from "land use favoring paving and shingles," according to the documentary Water Undone: The Effort to Save the Puyallup River Watershed. Three years in the making, the film's debut is slated for Oct. 28, 5:30-7:30 p.m., in Philip Hall, on the UW Tacoma campus.

Jim Gawel, associate professor of environmental chemistry, wrote and produced the documentary, which was filmed and edited by Paul Lovelady, the university's videographer. The production also involved four UW Tacoma undergraduates in filming, interviewing and research, with 3-D graphics created by Tim Kapler, UW Tacoma media technician.

Gawel said the film's primary purpose is to educate students and the public about real water management issues.

"A lot of the problems are invisible," he explained. "It's not like the river is turning red or on fire, like has happened in some other locations. It seems fine, and people don't recognize there's a problem."

The hour-long documentary takes viewers through the interwoven watershed-river system that supplies water for drinking, irrigation, recreation, food, wildlife and the natural beauty of the Northwest; then it shows how spreading urbanization threatens the Puget Sound area's water supply.

"With all of the noise being made today about saving Puget Sound, a lot of attention is being paid to the marine ecosystem. However, most of the problems threatening the Sound stem from water management issues up in the watersheds," said Gawel. "These issues include drinking water supply, flooding, pollution and habitat degradation."

To make its point the film makes use of stunning landscapes juxtaposed with interviews of people working to protect water quality, who explain the issues and challenges in changing public policy. Much of the difficulty in addressing the problem is not in the science, but in the politics.

"The lack of consistent and enforceable water management process at the watershed scale has exacerbated flooding and, conversely, draught conditions," says the film's narrator.

The documentary was funded by The Russell Family Foundation and a UW Tacoma Founders grant.

A question-and-answer period will follow the film screening. This event, presented by Interdisciplinary Arts and Sciences and the Environmental Science program, is free and open to the public, but registration is requested.

Gawel said he hopes to widely disseminate the film to any interested group or individual, with a small charge to cover the expense of copying and shipping. You can request a copy of Water Undone: The Effort to Save the Puyallup River Watershed online.

You can watch the trailer for the film below:

Written by: 
Beth Luce / October 21, 2010
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, Associate Director of Communications, johnbjr@uw.edu or 253-692-4536