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Elk River Blues: A Documentary About Water

posted Feb 16, 2015, 10:37 AM by Kathleen Tyner

Mike Youngren’s film about the West Virginia water crisis and the state’s environmental history debuted on the one-year anniversary of the Elk River chemical leak. It was produced with support from West Virginia Rivers Coalition and the Unitarian Universalists from around the U.S., who contributed money to the 
Charleston UU Congregation. It played to a packed house at the WV Cultural Center in Charleston, January 9—and now you can watch it online. You can also download the film to share it with friends and host house parties to watch it. 

You can also donate to help defray production costs and the upcoming costs to distribute the film. Click here to donate!

About Elk River Blues

When 10,000 gallons of a coal-cleaning chemical called "crude MCHM" leaked from a rusted containment tank into the Elk River in January 2014, it quickly overwhelmed the local distribution system and left 300-thousand residents without water to drink, cook, wash or bathe.

It didn't matter if you were rich or poor, or what color, who you voted for, or your sexual preference; anyone who had a tap or a toilet became victim to the water contamination, angered by the lack of regulation and enforcement, and vulnerable to the historic political, cultural and economic forces that dominate West Virginia.

The concept for the documentary Elk River Blues soon emerged from the chaos. Producer Mike Youngren, retired from television news and production, attended candlelight services, community protests, environmental hearings and other events where citizens voiced their fears and distrust. He captured many events on video with a "borrowed" camera. The tapes begin to pile up - the story began to take shape.

“At first, the story line dealt only with distressed water and a frightened population,” writes Mike. “Very soon the arc moved toward ‘systemic failure’ as it became clear the chemical contamination incident related directly to a collapse of ‘will’ in the legislative, regulatory and enforcement areas of state and local governments. What followed was an attempt to describe the reasons for the lack of appetite to protect the citizens of West Virginia—a pattern deeply ingrained, and profoundly historic. The oft-heard phrase, "that's just the way it is," became an editorial call to arms.

Elk River Blues illustrates what WV Rivers Executive Director wrote in the days following the spill: It was the inevitable consequence of a culture of lax regulation and legislative oversight.

And it can happen again. Bills moving through the 2015 legislative session seek to undo many of the gains won in the aftermath of the crisis.