It's a film that explores a possible and dire future where water, food and natural resources teeter on the edge of collapse.

And the San Joaquin Valley is at the center of the drama.

Filmmaker Jim Thebaut's documentary "Running Dry: Beyond the Brink" premiered Thursday evening at the Bakersfield Music Hall of Fame. There were no empty seats at the free showing, but the documentary is expected to go to wider distribution in April.

Thebaut, the creator, producer and director of the film, conducted 30 on-camera interviews for the feature, which focuses on the critical connection between food and water and the national security ramifications of that delicate relationship.

Sponsored by California Water Service, Harris Ranch, Kern County Farm Bureau and the Water Association of Kern County, the premiere began with these dark images:

"We're going to be OK — for a year or two, or maybe a decade — but at some point, the house burns down and we're not prepared."

The setting, the documentary's ground zero, is Central California's San Joaquin Valley, made up of eight counties, including Kern.

The on-camera interviews include water scientists, academics, farmers, ranchers, government water regulators and more.

"The San Joaquin Valley is truly a miraculous place on this planet," said Glenda Humiston, vice president of the University of California's Division of Agriculture & Rural Development. "The eight counties that make it up are among the absolute most productive counties agriculturally in the entire world."

But that food-and-water miracle is in grave danger of coming apart, the film argues in its premise. And the risk isn't only to the valley, it's a risk faced by the entire country.

David Nahai, former general manager of the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, said we may believe we're in somewhat of a respite because we experience, as we did last year, a season of snow and rain.

"But we're actually looking at climate change as it works," Nahai said. "The years of deprivation in terms of precipitation and snowpack, followed by periods of … too much of it."

These changes in climate patterns aren't just a matter of comfort or political infighting.

"It's a matter of national security," he said. "It's a matter of national concern."

William Bourdeau, executive vice president of Harris Farms, noted that the food produced in the San Joaquin Valley is consumed all across the country.

"So this isn't a California-centric issue," he said. "This issue is in the best interests of all Americans."

The film touches on myriad and connected issues, including changing climate patterns, food security, the role of forest management in a healthy watershed, and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

"So as we manage that water for humans, we have to simultaneously manage that water for ecosystems, and oftentimes those things come into conflict," said Josh Viers, a watershed scientist at UC Merced.

Conflict has been part of California's water history since the first time a farmer rerouted water from a river into an irrigation canal.

"All of the challenges and conflicts that we're dealing with now, which are considerable, pale in comparison to the challenges we're going to face in a decade, two decades or three as climate change eliminates our snowpack," said Felicia Marcus, chair, California Water Resources Control Board.

"It's a pretty grim situation for the watershed, in general terms and specific terms," added Blake Simmons, division director, Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Eric Strauss, professor of biology at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, said Americans have become accustomed to the luxury of abundant and inexpensive food.

"If our delivery system and agricultural system fails, food will become phenomenally expensive," Strauss said. "And it can bring our economy to its knees."

And so the water wars continue — and so does the necessary conversation about the future of California's water.

Steven Mayer can be reached at 661-395-7353. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter: @semayerTBC.

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