SCOTTSBLUFF — The Historic Midwest Theater will be the venue for the world premiere and benefit screening of “Rising Water” by director Becky Hughes McMillen Aug. 17 and 18.

McMillen, an award-winning documentary filmmaker, said the film is a collection of stories about water in western Nebraska. It chronicles the development of historic dams on the North Platte River and an irrigation system that changed the landscape. It’s a story about ancient history, aquifers, rainbow trout and ranchers who fought to protect their water. It’s all about life in a rural landscape and the challenges that face us all in a changing world. "Rising Water" is a story that has just begun.

McMillen hopes the public will engage in legislation related to water after viewing the film.

“I hope they will become more aware and engaged in the legislative process,” she said. “Most of the time someone else makes the decisions for us and we weren’t engaged in that process.”

She spoke with Midwest Theater Director Billy Estes about screening the film at the theater a couple weeks prior to the Fort Laramie canal breach. As they tried to select a date, the irrigation tunnel collapsed and McMillen decided to incorporate a panel discussion with the film. Panel members include: John Berge, North Platte NRD; Dennis Strauch, Pathfinder Irrigation District; Kevin Adams, Farmers Irrigation District; Mike Grubb, Nine-Mile rainbow trout restoration; Mike Sarchet, Governor’s Riparian Task Force; and McMillen.

Prior to the canal’s construction, McMillen said there was political outcry.

Agriculture is a vital economic driver for our communities and the value of water to aid that industry in growing crops and feeding livestock can impact the rest of the community.

“I’m a water user as a farmer, too, so I’ve always been interested in how the water works, but more about how it came to be,” Estes said. “The historical aspect, to me, was very intriguing and enlightening.”

Estes hopes the screening of “Rising Water” at the Midwest Theater will provide a safe place for dialogue as farmers and the community work through the challenges of the recent canal breach.

“My hope as the director of the theater is that the theater is this community living room and a safe place to have a dialogue around a topic,” Estes said. “We have seen very much success with that, especially with water topics.”

McMillen is hopeful the film will spark a dialogue that is bigger than the issues discussed in the film and the audience discovers the importance of being engaged in the legislative process, especially on conservation issues that affect everyone’s livelihood.

“It’s important to understand the way decisions are made to understand the protocol,” she said. “Politics are important and have been a big part of passing legislation. Everything is connected.”

Showtimes are Saturday, Aug. 17, at 7:30 p.m., and Sunday, Aug. 18, at 1:30 p.m. Tickets are $4 for members and students, and $7 for non-members. Tickets are currently available online at

A portion of ticket sales will be donated to the Irrigation Disaster Relief Fund at Oregon Trail Community Foundation to help with relief efforts in western Nebraska.

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Lauren Brant is a reporter with the Star-Herald and the Gering Courier. Contact her at 308-632-9043 or by email at

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