Two California greats report on the drought: public yawns

On the front page of the LATimes today, news that Californians are not rising to the challenge of the drought.

Cumulative water savings since last summer totaled only 8.6% compared with the same 10-month period in 2013, the baseline year for savings calculations. And in March, California residents and businesses used 3.6% less water than they did during the same month in 2013.

We need to save about three times as much water.

I ask one thing: please don't blame the press for the sluggishness of the public. The reporting coming out of the Central Valley in recent years, ground zero of the California drought, from the likes of Mark Arax, now an award-winning author, once of the LA Times, and Diane Marcum, a Los Angeles Times reporter who this past week won a Pulitzer for her work on the drought, has been extraordinary.  

Teri Gross interviews Arax here , and he gives a brilliant description, in about the fewest possible number of words, of the history of California's water system and the drought's impact.

And in this community of Fairmead, one of the African-American settlements out here in California, these big almonds guys, looking for more land, more profit, started coming right across the street. And the one family that I profiled, the wife was literally looking outside across the street at this new almond orchard going in. And the farmer was testing his pump that day. And the pump was probably a thousand feet deep into the ground. And their little pump that was pumping the water for their house and five acres probably reached 250 feet into the ground. And as soon as he tested that well, everything went dry in the house – the kitchen sink, the bathroom, the toilet – all, alas, burble. And it's been dry ever since – a year. And now they're hauling water and setting up these kinds of contraptions, not unlike the contraptions they had set up a half a century ago when they first came.

But even better, in terms of understanding and appreciating a reporter at work, is an extended interview with Diana Marcum, a stringer who worked her way on to the LATimes. The questions from Nieman are great and the answers enthralling.

You and the photographer, Michael Robinson Chavez, had envisioned from the beginning that it would be a series. Did you think of it in any more specific terms than that?

DianaMarcumWe started with the most vulnerable. We started with the farm workers who didn’t have papers. We did that story. And then, oh my goodness, you know, this is so much worse than we realized. And then we just kind of worked our way up. We started with the farm worker, then we did the small farmer. By then, a whole entire town was out of water. So we went there and then the land was sinking, so we found a small town where the land was sinking. It was always just kind of following the journalism gods.

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