Blind Spot: Governor and L.A. Times Reporter See No Connection Between Water Crisis and Colossal California Population

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By Leon Kolankiewicz

Leon is an Advisory Board Member and Senior Writing Fellow with CAPS. A wildlife biologist, and environmental scientist and planner, Leon is the author of Where Salmon Come to Die: An Autumn on Alaska's Raincoast, the essay “Overpopulation versus Biodiversity” in Environment and Society: A Reader and was a contributing writer to Life on the Brink: Environmentalists Confront Overpopulation.

In a career that spans three decades, three countries and more than 30 states, Leon has managed environmental impact statements for many federal agencies on projects ranging from dams and reservoirs to coal-fired power plants, power lines, flood control projects, road expansions, management of Civil War battlefields, NASA's Kennedy Space Center operations and a proposed uranium mine on a national forest. He also has worked with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to develop comprehensive conservation plans at more than 40 national wildlife refuges from the Caribbean to Alaska.

The writer's views are his own.

February 10, 2014

We have yet more evidence that key California elites have a blind spot so huge that it obscures their view of 38 million Californians – and their manifold consequences.

On January 27, the informative and insightful NPR program On Point with Tom Ashbrook aired an episode entitled “California Drought and the U.S. Food Supply.” It illustrated vividly the extent to which the governor and many in the media dismiss the role of California’s enormous population and rapid population growth in exacerbating the state’s water crisis.

Tom Ashbrook, On Point
On Point’s Tom Ashbrook

One of the guests on this episode was Bettina Boxall, a reporter for The Los Angeles Times who covers water and environmental issues. She joined the paper in 1987 and began covering the environment in 2002. In 2009 she shared a Pulitzer Prize for Explanatory Reporting for a five-part series on wildfires in the West.

Kudos to host Tom Ashbrook, who in posing a question to his guest Boxall, emphasized that “California is more populous than ever.” Boxall’s dismissive response was a doozy for someone who is an environmental reporter for the state’s newspaper of record and a Pulitzer Prize winner to boot.

“Well, actually the population isn’t driving water use. California’s actually got like 3 million more people than it did 20 years ago and we’re using the same amount of water. There still is a fair amount of slack in the system,” Boxall replied to Ashbrook.

In fact, California’s population has grown by about 8 million in the last 20 years and will add another several hundred thousand or so this year alone.

Every single one of those residents uses and needs water, roughly 100 gallons per day in the home alone. The more residents there are, the higher the demand. Two plus two equals four and four plus four equals eight, whether or not the mathematically challenged get it.

Directly and indirectly, the average American is responsible for the withdrawal of more than 1,000 gallons of water per day from surface and groundwater systems. The more Californians and the more Americans there are, the more water we will need. It’s not rocket science.

Of course Californians could do more to stretch our diminishing water resources, conserve them, and use them differently, more efficiently, and more wisely. We should be doing all these things. But if we do all these things and our population continues to grow rapidly, any gains from conservation and efficiency will be guzzled away by ever more water consumers.

Not to be outdone by a mere L.A. Times reporter, Governor Jerry Brown one-upped Betinna Boxall in the size of his own population blind spot.

Host Ashbrook ran a clip of Governor Moonbeam doing what he does best – pontificating vacuously.

Brown: “I think the drought emphasizes that we do live in an era of limits, that nature has its boundaries, and we have to be as efficient and elegant in the way we live and the way we conduct ourselves.” Apparently Brown thinks the era of limits applies to everything but population.

By all means, let us be efficient and elegant. But let us also use common sense and recognize that more and more people, even living ever more efficiently and elegantly, will undermine – or crush – any real progress we might make on the water front, or any other of the many environmental challenges we face as Californians, Americans and Earthlings.

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