Jack's Insights October 2016

By Jack Whittier, Director, Panhandle Extension District and Panhandle Research and Extension Center

“Having an uncomfortable feeling because you need something to drink”.  This is how one source defines the word “thirsty.”  I am particularly stuck by the phrase “uncomfortable feeling.” On Friday, Oct. 7, the documentary film “Thirsty Land” will be shown at the Midwest Theater in Scottsbluff. Watching this film may give you an “uncomfortable feeling” as it tells the story of how competition for water in the western United States, particularly during drought, impacts lives.

Dr. Jack Whittier

When I first learned that the Midwest Theater was considering hosting a showing of “Thirsty Land,” I’ll admit I was skeptical.  Knowing very little about this film at first, I did not want to encourage an “anti-ag” commentary where food production is pitted against soccer fields and putting greens in the competition for water. My experience has been that soccer fields always seem to prevail in the current American culture.

However, my hesitation subsided after checking out the film in more detail, and learning it was produced in partnership with the Robert B. Daugherty Water for Food Institute and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska; and also that it was sanctioned by the American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers and the American Society of Agronomy, two of the premier agricultural scientific societies in the world.

Since learning more about the content and purpose of the film, I have had the opportunity to view it, to talk with others who have seen it, and to help arrange a panel discussion following the showing.  As organizers and sponsors of the showing of the film in Scottsbluff, we felt it was important to provide a forum for discussion of how “Thirsty Land” messages apply here in the Panhandle.  Thus the purpose of the panel discussion.

The panel is comprised of four people whom I have developed a high regard for during my time in the Panhandle. Pete Lapaseotes, Owen Palm, Dennis Strauch and John Berge are all well-known and respected in this region. Their experience and perspective, I believe, will further emphasize the importance of understanding and planning for the future as competition for water increases. The panel will be moderated by Jeff Bradshaw, one of our Extension Specialists here in the Panhandle District.

This event is not just for those involved in agriculture; in fact, it may be even more important for those not as familiar with the important interface between agricultural irrigation and urban water needs.  I encourage you to bring your neighbors and friends, view the film, and participate in a lively and informative discussion following the film.

The event is free and open to the public. It begins at 7:30 pm, Friday, Oct. 7,, at the Midwest Theater. And as a special treat, the producer and director of the film, Conrad Weaver, will be present that evening and provide background and an introduction to the film.

Our goal is to lessen that “uncomfortable feeling” you may have concerning water use, by providing a better understanding of water policy and planning for future demands – particularly when drought occurs.