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The Stories

"Upstream, Downriver" takes viewers into the heart of the battle for water justice. Powerful stories with frontline community activists are interwoven with historical context about landmark regulations that significantly reduced water pollution in the U.S. but failed to serve disadvantaged communities that are hardest hit by today’s climate crisis. 

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Fred Tutman grew up along the banks of the Patuxent River where his ancestors date back to some of the first freed slaves to settle in Maryland. Fred is the only African-American Riverkeeper in the U.S. and has dedicated his life to stopping industrial polluters from illegally dumping toxic waste in communities of color. Today, rampant development and pesticide run-off are killing the marine life of the Patuxent and the Chesapeake Bay.  Fred mobilizes folks from farmers to lawyers to fight for Maryland’s largest watershed, but every day is a more urgent challenge.


Four dilapidated old dams on the lower Snake River have always leaked oil and gunk into the water, but now, as water levels are down, there is another critical issue. . .heat pollution. In 2015, the entire sockeye salmon migration died due to shallower water that had risen to up to ten degrees hotter than the air temperature. The Nez Perce and a coalition of other Pacific-Northwest Indigenous tribes are working together to fight for the dams’ removal. At stake is not just the extinction of salmon, which is the keystone species for the Columbia Basin watershed, but the extinction of thousands of years of Indigenous cultures and way of life. 

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Catherine Coleman-Flowers is a native of rural Lowndes County in Alabama and founder of the Center for Rural Enterprise and Environmental Justice. She is author of “Waste: One Woman’s Fight Against America’s Dirty Secret” (2020) and a MacArthur fellow. She is leading a charge to mobilize citizens to make their voices heard in one of the most biodiverse yet polluted states in the country. Over 90% of the residents in Lowndes County do not have sewage infrastructure. There are 2.2 million people in the U.S. today that never benefited from the sanitation investments under the Clean Water Act. She is taking the issue to the White House and leading the way for others in rural communities across the country to make their voices heard. 


A 51-mile cement channel slashes through the movie lots of Hollywood and is best known for its use in chase scenes in Chinatown, Flash Dance, Terminator 2, The Italian Job, and more. The Los Angeles River channel was built to control flooding and allow for vast development. But in an area where drought warnings are increasingly severe, the channel dumps billions of tons of fresh water into the ocean each time it rains. A vibrant coalition of community activists are fighting to restore parts of the Los Angeles River to its natural state. From watershed clean-ups to rallies and protests, they are building a new vision for this city of cement.

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Key voices

Key Voices
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Catherine Coleman Flowers

Founding Director, Center for Rural Enterprise & Environmental Justice

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Bruce Reznik

Executive Director,

Los Angeles Waterkeeper

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Shannon Wheeler

Vice Chairman, 

Nez Perce Tribe

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Fred Tutman

Executive Director,

Patuxent Riverkeeper

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Julian Gonzalez

Senior Legislative Counsel,


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La’Tanya Scott

Education Director,   

Cahaba River Society

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William Reilly

EPA Administrator (1989 - 1993)

US Environmental Protection Agency

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Dennis Mabasa

Chief Operating Officer, 

Friends of the L.A. River

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Dr. Mustafa Santiago Ali

VP Environmental Justice & Community  

Resilience,  National Wildlife Federation

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Laura Cortez

Organizer/Co-Executive Director

East Yard Communities for Env. Justice

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Marissa Christiansen

President & CEO

Friends of the L.A. River (2016-2022)

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Tom Jorling

Assistant Administrator (1977-1981)

US Environmental Protection Agency

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