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TORRENT: Irena Salina's new documentary looks at the harnessing of water for commercial gain.

Tapped Out

'Flow: For the Love of Water' shows how the future could dry up

By Richard von Busack

IF THE RAINS don't come this winter, Californians are going to understand what it's like in the rest of the world where potable water is in an ever-dwindling supply. One minor indicator of the trouble brewing: the villains in Quantum of Solace are water privatizers at whom Commander Bond gets to aim a few well-deserved bullets. If for no other reason than to get Cliff Notes for that upcoming blockbuster, go see Irene Salina's documentary Flow: For the Love of Water; it's destined to rival An Inconvenient Truth as an emergency alert. Here are some numbers: 2 million die per year on Earth because of water-borne illnesses, most of them under age 5. According to Michel Camdessus of the International Monetary Fund, this makes bad water more lethal than AIDS or war.

One might be tempted to think "that's their problem for not being born American." But water supplies in the United States are often tainted; Flow argues that the kind of common gastrointestinal problems we think of as caused by a bad burger are actually caused by bad water. (When in Louisville, Ky., for instance, try getting yourself a glass of water from the kitchen sink and watch the expression on your host's face.) Some 116,000 man-made chemicals taint water worldwide. In the United States, the No. 1 water pollutant is Atrazine, a herbicide already banned in the E.U., although Bush's EPA has asked us to ignore this chemical's links to a few of our more popular cancers. Overseas, the picture is worse; three major water companies (Thames Water, Vivendi and Suez) are using World Bank strictures to buy up local water systems to take them over for profit. Flow visits India, Bolivia and South Africa. In South Africa's Natal, a pay-before-use policy is being instituted in one township. Booklets featuring the cartoon mascot "Tappie" the water tap explain the drill in English. Too bad only half of the populace there speaks that language. When the locals are out of money, they do what they always did: haul buckets from the polluted local river. "They should want to pay," Basil Bold of Invensys Metering Systems says, faced with the shirking of these tightfisted peasants.Flow is alarming, but it's not cause for despair. There is outrage in the episode about Nestle sucking the water out of central Michigan for sales elsewhere. But the bottled-water industry is also the source for a Penn and Teller prank. The magicians conjure up a phony "water steward" to tempt some dupes with French imported "Eau de Robinet" ("Tap water"). And Ashok Gadgil of Lawrence Livermore Labs developed an inexpensive purification system in Uttar Pradesh, where water-born scourges were killing 70,000 a year. Flow serves up this fast-paced and intelligent look at the next century with a twist of Harry Lime; the excerpt from the Ferris wheel scene from The Third Man remind us of the never-changing motives of disaster capitalists. The documentary finishes with a call to action. Article 31 of the U.N. now describes water as a right, not a privilege: something to remind bartenders who try to sell you a tiny bottle of Dasani for $3.

Movie Times FLOW (Unrated; 84 min.), directed by Irena Salina, opens Sept. 19 at Camera 3. There will be panel discussions with environmental activists after the 6:30pm shows on Friday and Saturday.

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