Where Water Flows

Tyler Faires’ Award-Winning ACID Canal Documentary…

Like many others, Tyler Faires did not give much thought to the water that came from his kitchen faucet, much less the water that flowed through the Anderson-Cottonwood Irrigation District (ACID) canal.
In fact, the Redding-based filmmaker says he didn’t even know what the ACID canal was.
Until it went dry.

Even though his business, Faires Wheel Films, works with clients involved with a variety of environmental organizations and farming operations, Faires says he was unaware of the ACID’s dilemma until people started asking him about it.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Farires

His curiosity piqued, Faires attended an ACID board of directors meeting and was startled to encounter angry district customers. His first thought? “This is the beginning of a fascinating story.”

It was in early May 2022 and the North State had just staggered through its third year of drought. Faced with drastically diminished Shasta Lake water levels, the federal Bureau of Reclamation slashed the ACID’s share of water to 18 percent of its normal allocation.

The ACID board voted to sell that water rather than send it down an unlined and leaky century-old canal, reasoning that meager amount wouldn’t make it out of the Redding city limits, much less reach the 700 users counting on that water to irrigate their pastures and hay fields in the Churn Creek Bottom, Anderson and Cottonwood areas.

Photos courtesy of Tyler Farires

For the first time in its 108-year history, there was no water in the 35-mile-long ACID canal.
Faires and his crew started the cameras rolling in June 2022 and spent the following eight months documenting the impact within the district, including failed wells, decimated crops and lost livestock. The result was “ACID Canal,” a feature-length documentary that explores the drought and how the ACID board’s decision affected water users.

“We thought it was kind of a small-town story,” Faires says of the start of the project. “We didn’t know much about it. We didn’t actually know why the water wasn’t there. Trying to understand water management in California led us down a whole new trail.”

Photos courtesy of Tyler Farires

That trail connected Faires with James Rickert, a fifth-generation rancher who says he bought land in the Churn Creek Bottom in large part because of its dependable water supply from the ACID. Like other district water users, Rickert was shocked when the canal dried up and he turned to the district’s board for answers.

In the film, Rickert says he was “blown away” by the board’s cavalier treatment of those who chose to speak at meetings and as things progressed, he decided to campaign for a seat on the board.
Faires, who had been attending board meetings and interviewing water users, asked if he could document the campaign. “He had reached out about doing the documentary well before I decided to run. Tyler said you running is a big part of this story, can I cover it? I said sure,” Rickert says.

“They did a great job in capturing the story,” Rickert says of Faires’s crew. “It’s surreal watching it; it puts me right where I was last summer. He did a great job of capturing all the perspectives. He tried to talk to all of them and let the viewer decide.”

Photos courtesy of Tyler Farires

“My objective was to show what happened to a community when there is no water and what the results are when there’s a drought,” says Faires, noting wryly that capturing that story meant many days of filming in 100-plus degree days.

Faires has secured educational distribution licensing for “ACID Canal,” making the documentary available for screenings at universities, high schools and nonprofit organizations. The film has been submitted to 120 festivals and had been accepted by nine at the end of 2023, including the Green Film Festival of San Francisco. “We’re waiting to hear back from 70-something festivals,” Faires says. “We’ve had a 35-percent acceptance rate, which is where you want to be.” •

Reeling in the Awards

“ACID Canal” has enjoyed considerable success on the film festival circuit, including:
Cannes World Film Festival – Best Environmental Documentary
International Independent Film Awards – Gold
Asian Independent Film Festival – Four awards
Better Earth International Film Festival – award
Sacramento Independent Film Festival – Semi-finalist
Dubai Film Festival – Honorable mention
Portland EcoFilm Festival – Semi-finalist

About Jon Lewis

Jon Lewis is a Redding-based writer with 37 years of experience. A longtime San Francisco Giants fan, his interests include golf, fishing and sharing stories about people, places and things. He can be reached at [email protected]

Related Posts