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Arid Lands

Distributed by Bullfrog Films, PO Box 149, Oley, PA 19547; 800-543-FROG (3764)
Produced by Sidelong Films, LLP
Directed by Grant Aaker and Josh Wallaert
DVD, color, 98 min.
Sr. High - Adult
American Studies, Environmental Studies, Geography, Urban Studies

Reviewed by Cliff Glaviano, Coordinator of Cataloging, Bowling Green State University Libraries, Bowling Green, OH

Highly Recommended  Highly Recommended   
Date Entered: 6/3/2008

This is the fascinating story of the Hanford Site, WA, home of the nuclear reactor that produced the plutonium that fueled the bombs of the Manhattan Project that were exploded at the Trinity Site, NM, and dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II. Hanford continued to produce plutonium into the 1980’s. This documentary explores the area’s past through interviews with former residents of Hanford and White Bluffs who were relocated for the “war effort,” a Yakima Indian whose tribe lost access to traditional medicinal plants and fishing rights, and contemporary residents, farmers, and developers of the Tri-Cities area (Kennewick, Pasco & Richland, WA), bedroom communities of those who are employed in reclaiming the Hanford Reach, an area about half the size of the state of Rhode Island, and neutralizing some 53 million gallons of high level nuclear waste remaining on the site. Historical footage, still photos, and home movies are nicely edited to cover the 60+ years of Hanford.

The filmmakers have taken a very evenhanded approach to exploring the paradoxes that make up this part of eastern Washington. The dams in the Columbia River watershed that allow irrigation that supports commercial farming have virtually destroyed the native strains of salmon and steelhead that once were a food source for Native Americans. The irrigated commercial farms also destroy the local shrub steppe ecology. Ironically, radioactive contamination of the lands of the Hanford Reach National Monument has preserved the shrub steppe ecology by keeping people, developers and farmers off the land. More ironically, the payroll of the thousands of people working at reclaiming Hanford is sparking the development of widespread communities of McMansions in the Tri-Cities area impacting traditional agriculture, while irrigation of previously undeveloped shrub steppe areas has resulted in the planting of vineyards and is encouraging a wine tourist economy.

What to do, what to do, what to do? Traditional ranchers and farmers, hard pressed by urban sprawl and by the developers of boutique wineries for the tourist trade, are abandoning the traditional use of the land. Many Hanford workers, developers and Tri-Cities residents have taken the possible radioactive contamination of their soil and drinking water to be an “acceptable risk” of living in the area. Like their parents, most of the school age children in the Tri-Cities, sons and daughters of Hanford workers who were recruited from U.S. metropolitan areas have little or no appreciation for nature, the local ecology, or the environment that is being reclaimed. Everything is changing, and as geographer Morris Uebelacker notes, “When you get that far removed from landscapes, it gets very easy to modify them.”

This video is highly recommended in support of high school and college curricula in environmental studies, geography, and urban studies. It fully supports the broader topic of American studies, the consideration of the choices our citizens will have to make in order to maintain controlled growth of our country and our economy while considering the cost of abandoning or choosing to maintain our national and regional heritage.


  • Audience Choice Award, Wild and Scenic Environmental Film Festival, 2007
  • Best Environmental Film, Seattle True Independent Film Festival, 2007
  • Special Jury Award, Eckerd College Environmental Film Festival, 2007
  • Best of Fest, Hazel Wolf Environmental Film Festival, 2007