Water scarcity has plagued humans for millennia. Framed within the larger challenge of climate change, water scarcity is no longer a temporary problem; rather, it is the Achilles heel for cities, states, and regions with depleted water supplies and booming populations. Christopher Beaver’s new film, Once Was Water, enters this landscape with an optimistic mission—to “share lessons learned by [Las Vegas]…the driest city in America.” The film highlights efforts employed by water managers, artists, and activists in the Las Vegas region to address depleted groundwater, limited surface water supply, and a massive increase in residents.

A distinctly place-based account, the film opens with a scene reminiscent of hits like Ocean’s 11, situating viewers through textual narrative, music, and views of the Vegas strip. Visual juxtaposition with tract housing encroaching on desert, the skeletal remains of the now-defunct...

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