How a Documentary About SF’s Water System Inspired a Young Historian

For one student, watching Water from the Wilderness led him on a journey from his living room in Sebastopol to accepting an award in Sacramento. For Jim Yager, documentarian and producer of Water from the Wilderness, this was an inspiring story he learned from a viewer after the documentary aired on KQED.

The documentary details the early history and controversy about the plan to bring much-needed drinking water to the Bay Area, and the continuing challenges now facing the region with climate change. Featuring beautiful aerial shots of the reservoir, historical images and insights from SFPUC officials, the documentary brings a unique perspective on the ways an urban water utility, and the many people who depend on it, are learning to adapt and plan for an uncertain future impacted by natural disasters and climate change.

Julian Bolt’s project showcased the history of Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco’s regional water system.
Photo courtesy: Dennis Holt

Recently, Dennis Bolt, a father of an enthusiastic fifth grade student from Pleasant Hill Christian School in Sebastopol, reached out to Yager. His son Julian had watched Water from the Wilderness and was inspired to do a school history project on Hetch Hetchy and San Francisco’s regional water system. Yager connected with Julian over email and shared what he learned over the film’s development.

Julian created a poster focused on Hetch Hetchy and its history and submitted his assignment. He was soon selected from his school to present the project in the National History Day of California competition in Sacramento in May. There, Julian presented as a historian on the topic and shared about his research and insights. He was one of seven State Champions of about seventy submissions and was selected as best entry on California History.

Julian Bolt’s project on Hetch Hetchy was selected as best entry as part of the National History Day of California State Finals.
Photo courtesy: Dennis Holt

Yager said stories like Julian’s brings his work to life. He also expressed how viewers shared they learned not only where their water comes from, but also what it takes to keep bringing it to their home.

“It’s about connecting history to people and the next generation. A common reaction I’ve heard from viewers is that they learned details about San Francisco and its history that they didn’t know before,” said Yager. “Most viewers did not know the great history behind the regional water system or even where their water came from. Viewers said they learned about characters from San Francisco’s past that helped create and shape the water system we have today.”