DER Documentary

Water and the Dream of the Engineers

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by Richard Broadman
color, 80 min, 1983

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From the cholera epidemics of the nineteenth century to the climbing cancer rate of our time; from the colossal scale of New York City's aqueduct and water tunnels to the water wars of the West; from the dangers of chemical contamination to the water politics of Polanski's film Chinatown, Water and the Dream of the Engineers explores both the engineers' dreams for, and public fears about, the world we have inherited.

This is a fascinating documentary where rich social history frames a spirited debate between David Brower (former Sierra Club President), biologist Barry Commoner, and Able Wolman (dean of American Sanitary Engineering). The film's wider context is provided by the frustrations and concerns of those who maintain and use our water systems in the present day. The film is an educational odyssey about engineering, environmentalism, and the troubled relations between these two traditions. Most importantly, Water and the Dream of the Engineers reveals that conflicts over technology and the environment are, at root, debates about power and the promise of democracy.

A feature-length film in 4 sections for easy classroom use — Water can be shown to students in sections, with the aid of its companion study guide. Part Ia, "Water for All," documents the history of modern water and sewer systems; Part Ib, "Water Wars: California," explores the social conflicts of water systems in one part of the U.S.; Part IIa, "Upstream-Downstream: New Orleans," places one system's struggle with chemical pollution in the context of history; Part IIb, "The Sludge Dumpers," shows how the modern use of old sewer systems poses a threat to our water environment.

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