Know little about water problems around the world? Then watch Blue Gold: World Water Wars for a quick — and overwhelming — primer.

Based after the book, Blue Gold: The Fight to Stop the Corporate Theft of the World’s Water by Maude Barlow and Tony Clarke, Blue Gold the film is not for the faint hearted, as it kicks off its 90 minutes by explaining that human eyes dry out after a few days without water, making you literally cry blood. Then the film declares we’re running out of clean water.

How could we be running out of a renewable resource like water? Basically, we’re wasting and polluting the water we’ve got — then preventing new clean water from getting created. Farming, for example, pollutes water with fertilizer runoff, and also wastes water because farms get free water rights with built-in disincentives for conservation. Cities too create pollution via acid rain and urban runoff — and shrinks our water tables because all the paved surfaces prevent water from soaking back into the earth. Then we’ve got all the industrial pollution and dams and bad flood control measures that further throw our water cycle out of whack.

To make up for all the water we’ve wasted and polluted, we pump too much groundwater out, creating giant sinkholes! And of course, if we’re pumping out more than nature puts in, we’re gonna run out of groundwater sooner or later.

And in that scarcity, big corporations see money-making opportunities — and are taking private ownership of water. In fact, in exchange for debt relief, some third world countries were forced to allow privatization of water — which resulted in lower water quality and service plus a hike in rates. Blue Gold implicates the United Nations and World Bank for this “new colonialism” created by the privatization of water, where polluted natural bodies of water become a boon for corporations that want to sell water, and where the virtual water trade — i.e. Kenya’s water-intensive flowers sold to European countries unwilling to use their own water — depletes what natural resources developing nations still have.

Overwhelmed yet? Blue Gold does try to provide some ideas for solutions at the end of the film, ranging from the usual water saving tips around the home to hydroponics to permeable pavement. But what Blue Gold makes clear is that bigger policy and trade changes have to happen to prevent corporate bullying, to encourage conservation and discourage pollution, and to allow for sustainable economic development.

Perhaps we can all start by getting involved at the local level. Do you know what the state of water is in your ‘hood? Start finding out by visiting Food & Watch’s website, which has a section devoted to local water facts.

Blue Gold features the authors of Blue Gold the book and experts from Food & Water Watch and other organizations. The $24.99 DVD’s available at the PBS store.

Who owns your water?
Documentary film Blue Gold shows us why the world's running out of water, and who owns what we have left.