The always interesting "National Geographic Specials" return for a new season tonight with "The Power of Water," further evidence that the most precious resource on Earth may not be gold or silver (8 p.m., KCET Channel 28 and KPBS-TV Channel 15; 7 p.m., KVCR-TV Channel 24).
While water covers seven-tenths of the Earth's surface, only 3% is fresh water and a mere 1%--in rivers, lakes, streams and wetlands--is available to sustain our lives. As the Earth's population continues to expand, the demand on the planet's water supply is nearing the point of exhaustion.
"The Power of Water" chooses to look at five freshwater trouble spots in the United States and what producer-writer-director Susan Winslow and her team have chosen to show may not be new news but it is distressing news, indeed.
The special takes us to the Midwest where the Ogallala aquifer, which covers parts of eight states, is replenishing itself at a painfully slow rate. The future of many family farms in the High Plains is tied to the diminishing aquifer.
Viewers are also given visits to the Florida Everglades, a vast river of grass that is more than 50% gone, threatening the vast ecosystem it once supported; to the Columbia River where the annual salmon migration has fallen from 10 million to about 300,000; and to Love Canal where an army of blue-collar volunteers is trying to reclaim the Buffalo and Niagara rivers from polluters.
But of most interest to Southern California viewers is the section on the once-mighty Colorado River. Its water is so completely diverted that the river now dies an ignominious death in the Mexican desert rather than flowing to the Gulf of California.
"The Power of Water" takes a look at booming Las Vegas and its water problems: "We've run out," says the city's water district manager of its Colorado River supply. As elsewhere in the West, a fight is being waged between urban and farm interests in Nevada for alternative water supplies. As the show indicates, the game seems to be stacked against the farmers: There are more people employed by the Mirage Hotel in Las Vegas than on farms in the entire state.
Despite uninvolving narration by actress Marsha Mason, "The Power of Water" is a call to all of us to close our faucets tightly and think twice about all of our water use.