While the production team traveled to Mexico to see the death of the Colorado River firsthand, the remaining crew stayed in Yuma, Ariz., to get a sense of how the Colorado is being diverted and used for economic development.
Planted right on the border of Mexico and Arizona, Yuma is known for being the “sunniest place on earth”. Its reputation did not disappoint us. Most days were sweltering hot by mid morning and unbearable hot by the afternoon.
Yuma has long been a key agricultural area where the abundant sunshine, high temperatures, and arable land allow for year-round crop growth in irrigated areas. The most abundant crops in the area include citrus fruits, cotton, alfalfa, lettuce, and various grains. Without water from the Colorado River, all of the farmland within the Yuma Mesa and surrounding valleys would be lost. Yuma County diverts 1.2 million acre feet of the river’s water per year, making up over one-third of the 2.8 million acre feet of water allotted for Arizona.
Often our days were spent scouting film locations and shooting b-roll (the footage included in between interviews that help to tell the story in a film and to give it dimension). We would drive by numerous stands of watermelons and through endless fields, some of which were completely cracked and dry while others were flooded to grow cotton and alfalfa. Dust devils would spring up in the driest spots as we cruised through the outskirts of town.
During our visit we also met with local farmer and president of Dunn Grain Inc., Tim Dunn, who showed us his crops and discussed his irrigation techniques. Alongside his father, Floyd Dunn, the two of them both work to distribute, and help process and market Yuma’s agricultural products.
He introduced us to Charles Cowan, the head of power operations and technical services at Yuma County Water Users' Association, who showed us the new “drip” irrigation systems for grain crops that require less water than those like alfalfa or cotton.
While staying in Yuma, it was interesting to imagine how the town used to be. As we drove through the small strip of old shops and hotels in the historic district of town, I couldn’t help but remember the film 3:10 to Yuma, with Christian Bale and Russell Crowe running through the arid, desert landscape and wondered what the area had been like before the franchises and casinos began to spring up, and when the only glimpse of civilization was a small train station in a vast desert.