Megadrought in the Southwest: LA Times vs NYT

Let me point out how different the same study can look to different reporters in different arenas.

Bettina Boxall, the Pulitzer Prize-winning LA Times reporter, looks at California in her big front-page story a week ago about long-term drought in California and SoCal, and finds little change in rainfall but substantial change in human behavior and technology.

Annual water use by the city of Los Angeles has stabilized at the lowest levels in nearly half a century.

In the early 1970s, when the city’s population was approaching 3 million, Angelenos used an average of 586,000 acre-feet of water a year. Now, as the population hovers around 4 million, the average is 502,000 acre-feet.

Despite including a glancer at a dire report on megadrought in the southwest by Park Williams, in other words, Boxall finds something approaching a happy ending.

In the NYTimes, focusing on the same study, but a Southwest dominated not by the coast but by the Colorado River water basin, Henry Fountain finds a far more dire picture.

“We had a really warm spring,” said Graham Sexstone, a hydrologist with the United States Geological Survey. “Everything this year has melted really fast.”

The Southwest has been mired in drought for most of the past two decades. The heat and dryness, made worse by climate change, have been so persistent that some researchers say the region is now caught up in a megadrought, like those that scientists who study past climate say occurred here occasionally over the past 1,200 years and lasted 40 years or longer.

No happy ending for the southwest in this story. What is a megadrought, btw? Twenty years of drought. Happens all the time.

Published by Kit Stolz

I'm a freelance reporter and writer based in Ventura County.

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