Stark News Details
Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline - Part 1Posted Jan. 7, 2011
About Our Water Webs: Our Region's Water Lifeline
Mariana Silva is a senior magazine journalism major at Kent State University at Stark. These articles were featured on the CoolCleveland.com blog.
Part 1: Your Watershed: Exploring the Silent Highway
How often do we think about where the water we use and drink is coming from? Filmmaker David Smeltzer, a Kent State University journalism professor, is finishing a Northeast Ohio film examining the relationship between communities and the water beneath them.
Two weeks before Earth Day, Smeltzer gave students, teachers and professors a taste of his upcoming documentary, “Watersheds, Water Webs, Why Should You Care?” at the Great Lakes Science Center’s Water Summit 2010. The idea behind the documentary is the classic idea of thinking globally but acting locally, Smeltzer said, showing how a local issue such as the Nimishillen Creek Watershed can help influence a global issue.
“One thing about Ohio is that we really take water for granted,” he said. “…Well, the rest of the world isn’t like that.”
Watersheds bring together the water that goes under them in an unseen network, like a subterranean highway. Ohio has 45 of them, including the Nimishillen Creek watershed that drains 188 square miles in Stark, Summit and Tuscarawas counties. “Watershed, Water Webs, Why Should You Care?” was possible through a partnership between Kent State at Stark and the Herbert W. Hoover Initiative that started in 2008. The idea for the movie came up last year as Kent State at Stark identified projects that fit Herbert W. Hoover Foundation chairwoman Elizabeth Lacey Hoover’s goals of creating media that increases awareness of environmental issues.
“Focusing on watersheds made a lot of sense because if people don’t understand their watersheds, they don’t understand the distribution of water and the flow of water,” said project coordinator Penny Bernstein, a biology professor and one of about a dozen faculty members working with 300 students on various Hoover-related projects.
This won’t be the first documentary about water financed with the help of the foundation. Hoover was also involved with the grant behind the movie One Water, produced in 2008 by the University of Miami in Florida. The movie, filmed in 15 countries, showed how water is distributed in the world, being abundant in some places but lacking in others.
“Watersheds, Water Webs” focuses locally, but with broad implications. It will be similar yet different from other documentaries he has filmed, Smeltzer said.
“When you make a movie about something, you really have to become an expert in the subject you are making a movie about,” he said. “Not as much as an expert as a person who has been doing it his whole life, but enough because you have to translate what they say into something the public can understand.”
Smeltzer, whose bachelor’s degree was in zoology, has filmed and produced other science documentaries in his career. One of them, “Lucy in Disguise,” which aired nationally on PBS, examined the fossil skeleton Lucy.
Unlike most documentaries, when the research and development gets done before the filmmaker starts filming, Smeltzer is conducting the shooting and the research and development part at the same time. The filmmaker compared it to “building a quilt” as he pieces together material for the documentary, which is expected to be released on Summer 2011.
“It is exciting that way because it is more of a true documentary than something that becomes somewhat scripted,” he said. “It is more exciting and more difficult that way.”
Smeltzer said the documentary has been divided into three main parts that identify the relationships between the watershed and the community that surrounds it. The first part of the movie focuses on watershed research. It tells the story of Robert Hamilton, a biology professor at Kent State at Stark who has established research sites at Quail Hollow State Park in Hartville, in which he examines water quality and living organisms.
Hamilton points out that everybody uses a watershed “in some way whether they know it or not.” “So the first step is make them aware you are using a watershed,” he said. “And then the next step is think about how are you using it and ask the question, ‘Is this perhaps the best or most fair use of it,’ and depending on those questions come up with a plan what should be the use of the watershed.”
The filmmaker and his crew have been shooting Hamilton’s work in the field and in the laboratory, registering the professor’s interaction with the environment and with those who work with watersheds.
Hamilton’s story will be “one chapter in the overall story,” Smeltzer said. The other chapters, he said, will show how people interact with watersheds each day and what people can do to improve them. “People have been affected in a positive way and in a negative way by the watershed and I think the overall story is that the watershed is part of our existence,” Smeltzer said.
For the second part of the documentary, Smeltzer will tell the audience the story behind the groups dedicated to the watershed’s protection. Smeltzer has been focusing on the Nimishillen Creek Watershed Partners Core Committee, a diverse group interested on helping the watershed that brings together people such as teachers, farmers and environmental groups.
Another thread will tell the story of individual relationships to the watershed. Smeltzer said this part of the movie will show how people interact with their watershed in a daily basis. He said some of the people shown in the movie will illustrate the positive and the negative ways the watershed affects people’s lives. “Ohio is one of a few areas that we have this surplus of water. It seems like we have an overabundance of water,” Smeltzer said. “But it’s something that we really have to take care of and watch out for or there can be consequences of not doing that.”
The idea is to make watersheds “visible,” Bernstein said. “Our small Nimishillen Creek Watershed, for example, ultimately is part of the large Mississippi River Watershed, and flows into the Gulf of Mexico and finally into the Atlantic Ocean. Most people don’t realize the connection, how truly vast the silent highways can reach.”
Read more about Kent State at Stark’s Hoover Initiative at ksuwatershed.wordpress.com and wateryourthoughts.wordpress.com.