Cycle of Insanity Film Guide

From Beachapedia

Know Your H2O: Film Presentations of The Cycle of Insanity

Show the film to begin a dialog in your community.

Who is my audience?

Start with your chapter. Show the film at a chapter meeting and see if anyone has interest in hosting presentations in the community with you and helping you research your local watershed. Then begin to venture out into the community more, offer to show the film to local water agency staff, host a showing at a local library or other community center and invite the general public, citizen groups, garden clubs and other environmental organizations for a start. Use any contacts you have in your local school systems to show this to students, either as part of a related class or after school activity such as during an environmental, marine biology or surf club meeting.

Research your local watershed

Understanding what’s happening locally helps facilitate a post-film discussion. There’s no need to be an expert. It’s just a beginning point to start a dialogue in your community. We also recommend inviting your local water agencies to attend the film so they can answer questions from the audience. This can be done as a formal panel, or informally if you know they are in the audience. All of the questions below should be easily answered via your water agencies’ websites The agencies that manage water are very fragmented, so you will need to check the following: Water Supply, Water Quality, Sewage Discharge/Wastewater Management; Public Utilities/Public Works; Flood Control/Stormwater.

  • Supply: where does your water come from (most areas have mixed portfolio: imported, groundwater, reservoirs, etc.)? Are those sustainable resources? What is the energy demand? What are the impacts on the watershed and wildlife? Is the water agency maximizing efforts to conserve? Are there other alternatives that need to be explored (recycled wastewater, stormwater harvesting, etc)
  • How is it used? What is average household consumption (look at water usage on the meter; look at your water bill)? What’s an estimate of how much is used indoors or outdoors? What % is used by agriculture (is that agricultural use appropriate for the climate)?
  • Impact: What are the enviro impacts of how we use it? (Energy use, habitat/wildlife degradation, polluted runoff, partially treated ocean discharge, exacerbated flooding threat from mismanaged stormwater, etc.)
  • Discharge: are we wasting water? Where is it discharged? Is it affecting water quality? Are we recycling wastewater for re-use? … promoting “greywater” use? etc
  • Flood control: is all rainwater sent to the ocean? Should it be going back into the ground? (Yes) Are we depleting groundwater? Should we be starting a green streets program? …treatment wetlands? …Ocean Friendly Gardens? …other means for capturing stormwater while improving habitat through more natural practices?
  • Pollution: non-point, runoff, are there problems in your beaches?
  • Also look at general use patterns, do people hose down sidewalks in your area? Do a lot of people have rain-barrels, cisterns or capture water on-site for groundwater percolation (and non-point source pollution reduction)?
  • Evaluate water usage from a community/watershed perspective. (check out the Ventura water budget case study as an example)

Each of these areas represents an opportunity to focus Know Your H2O efforts. Ultimately, a chapter can just pick one piece to work on: i.e. Developing an Ocean Friendly Garden program; or advocating for “green streets” program, treatment wetlands, recycled wastewater, etc. But public education of the problems and possible improvements of water management (the whole “big picture”) is in and of itself critical.

Talking Points for showing the film:

Before you do a public screening, we recommend you show it at a chapter meeting first, to introduce the subject matter to your members/volunteers, and begin their education. The film presentations are an easy way to tackle Know Your H2O. We recommend using local water agency employees to be a part of a panel to answer questions for the screening. Hopefully they will meet with you beforehand so they understand our message. While the film is somewhat provocative, agencies need to understand that we are pro-actively trying to help – and we need their guidance and cooperation. Showing the film should lead to some type of action, whether forming an issue campaign around your local problems, or a program for OFG, etc.

Introduce yourself:

Give them your name, chapter, how long you’ve been a volunteer, and anything else you like. i.e. why you got involved, what you like most about being a volunteer with SF.

Try to engage the audience:

Try a question: “True or False: all the water that exists on Earth now, has been here since the beginning of time.” Wait for them to answer. They will be hesitant. Answer: True! There is no new water. It is recycled over and over via the water cycle. The premise of the film is that the water cycle we all learned about in the 4th grade has been dramatically altered over time, leaving us with a broken system that wastes water and energy, pollutes our natural waterways, harms critical marine life, and poorly deals with flooding and other water management problems. But we also want to emphasize that there are “multi-benefit” solutions (some practices like Ocean Friendly Gardens, treatment wetlands, etc --- can re-create habitat, conserve water demand, recharge groundwater, and reduce flooding threats). It’s not JUST about water supply – it’s “integrated water resources management”!!

How the film came about:

The Cycle of Insanity: The Real Story of Water is a short, animated film made by a collaboration of creative and dedicated volunteers at the Surfrider Foundation. Several Surfrider Foundation chapters combined their talents and funds to create the film -- and then actor Zuleikha Robinson of the television show “Lost”, generously agreed to narrate it. It represents Surfrider’s policy vision for holistic water management reform.

Localize it to your neck of the woods:

Based on your watershed research, what is happening in your neck of the woods? What are current issues the chapter is dealing with? Could any problems be handled better? Are there agencies that could be communicating better with each other, with the public? Are there opportunities for Low Impact Development, Green Streets, Ocean Friendly Gardens, Composting, Rain Harvesting, Flood Control, Recycled Wastewater? Identifying one or two areas to touch on locally to get people thinking about them while watching the film.

Show the film.

Wrap up and Questions to consider:

I usually say something like, “Ok, so a lot of information to digest. What are peoples’ thoughts? Are there any comments or questions?” If there is a panel you can direct the questions to them.

  • Are there any follow-up action items after showing the film? (Please see Know Your H2O website for ideas)
  • Is there enough feedback to start a campaign/program?
  • If so, is there a show of hands at the screening of people who’d be willing to work on the campaign?
  • Can they sign-up? (Have a sign-up sheet ready)

One important distinction of “action items” – many of the pieces of the reform puzzle require advocating government actions – which can be difficult, require partnerships in the enviro community, and possibly create opposition. Ocean Friendly Gardens is different – it is voluntary and does not require government cooperation (although their help is certainly welcome).

Important Terms to know:

“Embedded energy”:Most communities don’t understand the connection between water management and energy use. But unless you’re snatching a cup of water from a stream, there is always some amount of energy demand “embedded” in our water management system. This “embedded energy” comes from delivery of water to our homes (eg. importing water, pumping groundwater, etc), how we use the water (heating it for washing our dishes/clothes, long hot showers, etc), to treating our wastewater before it is discharged (discharging wastewater is, in some ways, throwing away all the energy we have spent getting the water to our community and treating it so it meets minimum discharge requirements.) OPPORTUNITIES: Reducing the “embedded energy” in our water management system can dramatically improve our efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and all the threats to our coast and ocean from climate change (sea level rise, ocean acidification, etc). Reducing embedded energy should be a major consideration in every step of “integrated water management” – from the plans of our government agencies to our own behaviors.

Potable Water: drinkable water (vs. gray water or waste water.)

Potable Reuse: the fancy name for recycled water treated to drinking standards. This can sometimes be called Indirect Potable Reuse (IPR), when the purified wastewater is held in storage (in groundwater or reservoirs) for a period of time. IPR is primarily used for a “fail safe” mechanism. For example, if something at the purification plant malfunctions, the water is not going directly into the delivery system, so it can be treated again before the malfunction creates a public health threat. However, IPR creates more pumping and re-treating what is highly purified water. So, engineers are currently working on other “fail safe” systems so that the water leaving the purification plant can be put directly into the delivery system – Direct Potable Reuse (DPR). The benefit of Potable Reuse is that we are taking wastewater (sewage) that has already been partially treated and investing a marginal addition of treatment to make it safe to use again. If we don’t do that, we are not only discharging water to the ocean, but we are effectively discharging all the energy spent to partially treat that water. So, recycling wastewater eliminates the demand on the original source of the water, often saves energy, and eliminates ocean discharges. OPPORTUNITIES: we have advocated for IPR in several cases where upgrades to local Sewage Treatment Facilities were mandated by the law. But we are also seeing voluntary wastewater recycling efforts that we can support. See case studies for examples and what’s making these efforts successful (as well as possible challenges to overcome).

Non-potable Re-use: Wastewater in our sewage treatment facilities can also be purified for use in residential and public space irrigation – a lower level of treatment than what is required for potable re-use. But agencies are required to ensure these 2 water sources do not get mixed together. So non-potable reclaimed water requires dual plumbing under your streets – a separate set of pipes called “purple pipe” (because that color has been chosen to warn plumbers that the pipe is transporting non-potable water). The advantage of non-potable re-use is that it requires less treatment, and consequently it saves energy and reduces treatment cost. The major disadvantage is that constructing the system of “purple pipe” is expensive and can require tearing up streets and temporary disruption of neighborhoods. Generally, we have supported the idea of de-centralized “package plants” that divert some sewage from the system to smaller reclamation facilities that are located close to the source of demand (golf courses, cemeteries, industrial facilities, etc). This de-centralized system, if done right, can reduce flows to the major sewage treatment plant, save energy in the treatment and delivery, and offset the use of precious potable water. OPPORTUNITIES: If your water agency is considering wastewater recycling, the plan may include a mix of potable re-use and “purple pipe” projects. If so, “purple pipe” projects can make recycled wastewater programs look unnecessarily more expensive – and consequently lose public support. We can advocate for a smarter approach that both saves money and reduces the “embedded energy” in the system.

Ocean Friendly Gardens (OFG) is a program to educate homeowners and local governments about important landscaping best practices. The principles, Conservation, Permeability & Retention (CPR for our ocean) provide multiple benefits. If residential or public spaces are designed using our principles, we can: eliminate the use of chemicals that pollute our waterways, eliminate the need for gardening machinery and the associated pollution, eliminate dry-weather runoff from the property, dramatically reduce if not eliminate wet-weather runoff by capturing rainwater on-site, create habitat by planting native vegetation and conserve water because native plants are adapted to live in our climate. OPPORTUNITIES: we have leveraged efforts by water supply agencies and/or water pollution prevention agencies to support this program. OFG has many “tiers” for chapter implementation: from outreach at tabling events and education through our websites and social media, “Lawn Patrols”, etc – to full-on educational classes and garden conversion projects. Please see the OFG Manual for more details. Also, the principles of OFG and our program are primarily targeted at residential properties – but these same principles can be used in public parks (non-recreation spaces), public buildings (libraries, city hall, etc), community/vegetable gardens, etc.

Green Streets is a generic term for capturing runoff from streets (parking lots are similar) by diverting water from the gutter into street medians, parkways and other areas. This is a multi-benefit program for some urban areas because it reduces flood volumes, reduces polluted runoff, recharges groundwater (which MAY become a future source of drinking supply), and creates beautiful landscapes with native plants. OPPORTUNITIES: There are several areas around the nation already implementing green streets programs. Some of the more interesting include funding through pollution prevention budgets and/or through dedicating a certain percentage of budgets for normal street repair to green street projects.

Treatment Wetlands are also a larger effort to divert water from larger flood control projects into wetlands created to remove pollutants from the water before it is returned to the stream and/or allowed to percolate into the groundwater basin. Of course, protecting/restoring natural wetlands should also be a high priority – but be careful about “anti-degradation” problems when considering diverting polluted runoff to existing and relatively undisturbed natural wetlands. OPPORTUNITIES: We are beginning to see flood control agencies work with water supply agencies and/or agencies mandated to reduce pollution – each benefitting from individual or “networks” of small wetlands throughout a watershed. In urban areas, these projects can also be promoted as “passive” parks (“bringing a little piece of nature back to urbanized neighborhoods”) or mixed passive/active parks. There are endless design opportunities – for example building baseball fields adjacent to small treatment wetlands and using the ball field for overflow storage that quickly flows into the wetland when the storm is over.

Dams/reservoirs: Often reservoirs are constructed to capture and store water from the wet-weather season for use during the dry-weather season. These major public works projects can create a laundry list of disruptions to natural process (e.g., interrupting sand deposition on our beaches, interfering with migratory fish, creating warm water that is incompatible with fish and wildlife habitat, etc). And the water stored behind dams is often limited over time if the reservoir fills with sediment (that should be on our beach) and/or evaporates during the dry weather period. OPPORTUNITIES: Given the multitude of environmental impacts from dams and reservoirs, we believe they should not be a “first step” towards drinking water alternatives – especially if other alternatives have not been fully implemented. Also, we believe some existing dams are now relatively useless for water supply storage yet they continue to create environmental impacts – they should be removed. This can be a complicated, expensive and time-consuming effort (see Ventura County Chapter case study). Nonetheless, the benefits of these campaigns can be enormous.

Ocean and groundwater desalination: The technology and process for purifying wastewater (above), tainted groundwater or seawater is usually the same – primarily relying on “reverse osmosis” and other purification processes. The big differences in these proposed projects are: 1) higher levels of “total dissolved solids” (TDS) in the source water will dramatically increase the energy demand of purification (ocean desal being the most “energy intensive” and wastewater recycling often the least); ocean desalination can suck in and kill marine life (although there are sub-seafloor intakes that avoid this problem); and the waste stream (often referred to as “brine discharge” – even though it can contain many contaminants) must be designed to minimize environmental impacts. OPPORTUNITIES: Except in extremely rare circumstances, we believe ocean desalination should be opposed because of the multiple adverse environmental impacts; groundwater reclamation support is dependent on the proposed waste discharge; and wastewater recycling deserves strong support (but also with assurances of proper waste disposal). Contact Surfrider staff to learn about our experiences with ocean and groundwater desalination.

Learn more about these and other Know Your H2O topics by clicking on the Resources tab at


These issues are not meant to be an exhaustive list of relevant topics for consideration in our Know Your H2O vision. For example, many areas are currently reviewing “climate change adaptation plans” that include the impacts of global warming on safe and reliable water management. These impacts include changing hydrological patterns, altered flood projections and floodplain designations, sea level rise and contamination of coastal groundwater and surface waters, etc. In some cases, these discussions and planning processes for climate change adaptation can drive water management reform. WE CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE POLICY DEBATES TO ADVOCATE OUR MULTI-BENEFIT VISION!!

One final thought: it is perfectly acceptable to not know all the answers to complex issues when screening the film. It is honest and acceptable to say, “I don’t know – but I will find out.” It is NOT ACCEPTABLE to fabricate responses just to appear to be an expert. We have a vision we believe in – but we are also learning how best to implement that vision along the way.

- Compiled by Joe Geever, Mara Dias, and Belinda Smith (Activist).