Waterkeeper explores the astonishing and uplifting life of environmental activist Diane Wilson, Waterkeeper for the San Antonio Bay Estuarine system. The film interweaves several storylines revolving around this visionary, funny, and intrepid warrior, who’s been fighting her entire life for the waters she grew up on.
Our primary story captures Wilson’s newest fight, as it unfolds like an environmental true crime. In December of 2020, Diane discovers that a newly formed oil pipeline company named Max Midstream Texas has filed an application to The Army Corps of Engineers for permits to build a new oil export terminal at the Port of Calhoun. For the largest tanker ships to gain access to the terminal, Max Midstream plans to dredge a massive expansion of the shipping channels in Matagorda Bay, heart of the local fishing industry. However…
…in 1994, after discovering 41 million cubic yards of mercury had been released into the waters by Alcoa Aluminum’s Point Comfort Plant, the EPA declared Matagorda Bay a Superfund site. They determined that the safest way to mitigate the toxic mercury, was to allow contaminated sediment to remain undisturbed on the bay floor. But late last year, the US Army Corps of Engineers reversed the EPA’s decision, and has fast-tracked the approval process for the Max Midstream proposal. To protest the Army Corp’s reversal, 72-year-old Diane began her thirteenth hunger strike on April 7, 2021. After 38 days, and 48 hours in the Galveston County Jail, Diane was released. A week later, she led a protest in front of the Max Midstream headquarters in Houston. The ACOE approval deadline to accept bids from dredging firms by spring 2022.
Into the Max Midstream story, we interweave Diane’s epic 30-year war with multinational petrochemical giant Formosa Plastics. Using archival news coverage, footage from past documentaries, and interviews, we explore the epic Formosa saga, which culminates in October 2019 when Diane’s suit against the company settles in her favor for $50 million, the largest penalty awarded for violations of the Clean Water Act in US history.
Throughout, we entwine Diane’s remarkable life story. The only female shrimper in her community, she has five children, the youngest autistic. She has authored 4 books, and is writing on her fifth. In 2001 Diane, broke into the Union Carbide plant in her hometown, and dropped a banner denouncing the company for the Bhopal India gas leak that killed 8,000 people. She was arrested and spent five months in jail for it. She was so moved by the incarcerated women she met there, she founded the Texas Jail Project, which holds county jails accountable for mistreatment and medical neglect of inmates. She co-founded the international peace organization Code Pink. Diane was arrested for hopping the White House fence to protest the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Despite a high school education, Diane is a sought after public speaker by environmental groups around the world. She has endured thirteen hunger strikes, the longest 57 days.…
Our final storyline explores the catastrophic impact of the all-powerful Texas petrochemical industry on low income/fence line Gulf Coast communities like Seadrift, Texas. Using industry-produced promotional films and PR campaigns, we show how these powerful corporations sell folks on the benefits of bringing their industries to their towns. In direct contrast, archival news footage of chemical spills, explosions, and daily releases of toxic chemicals, alongside testimony from victims of the pollution, reveals the devastation to those communities.
Diane’s courage and selflessness is the engine that drives our film. Through the lens of her lifelong David vs. Goliath saga, Waterkeeper offers a boots-on-the-ground view of a fight for humankind’s most precious resource – clean water.
But Waterkeeper paints on a broader canvas. In telling the specifics of Diane’s activism, the film points to the larger environmental justice story playing out in low income, fence line communities across the planet. Of our how industrial polluters skirt regulation, and continue to squander our dwindling water supply. Waterkeeper shows how we got here, and how to move forward…
Fax Bahr, Independent FilmmakerSEE MEMBER PROFILE
Tani CohenSEE MEMBER PROFILE