188 Drought Stories, Not a Drop of Concern for Environmentalist Role

Networks focus on drought and its impact, but ignore environmental regulations complicating crisis.

Climate change is “damn serious,” according to California Gov. Jerry Brown, who has repeatedly blamed it for the state’s four-year drought.

Even without “definitive evidence” to back that up the network news media repeated it. What the networks refused to repeat was criticism about environmental regulations and other government failures. ABC, CBS and NBC evening news shows aired 188 drought stories and completely ignored environmental regulations that have worsened the crisis by sending massive quantities of water out to sea.

According to The Wall Street Journal, tens of billions of gallons of water have been lost thanks to regulations and poor water management in California. Much of this was to save a tiny endangered fish, the Delta smelt. Only six of them were found during the most recent survey of the fish.

Brown’s claims about climate change fit one of the media’s favorite narratives. Although it wasn’t the first time he blamed climate change, in April 2015, Brown said of the four-year dry spell, “climate change is not a hoax, we’re dealing with it and it’s damn serious.” President Barack Obama has made similar comments, even though scientists are “divided” on the subject and even the alarmist New York Times admitted there is no “definitive evidence that it is causing California’s problems.”

In the past year and a half, broadcast network evening shows have aired 188 stories and briefs about the drought. In that time, the networks only offered two reasons (7 stories each) for the widespread and persistent West Coast drought. They’ve hyped climate change/global warming as well as pointed to the specific weather phenomena that was “blocking winter storms” from dumping rain and snow in California. In the same stories, evening shows ignored the role of government and environmental regulations in exacerbating the crisis.

Man is at least partly responsible for the California drought, but not in the way Brown claims. The urbanized, water-guzzling, agricultural paradise known as California was a creation of mankind who engineered the desert to suit his fancy. Since then, environmental regulation and poor water management have actually led to “tens of billions of gallons” of precious water going out to sea over the years, according to The Wall Street Journal. That sounds “damn serious” too, yet the networks haven’t said a peep.

In its Review and Outlook section the Journal said on April 5, 2015, “environmental regulations require that about 4.4 million acre-feet of water -- enough to sustain 4.4 million families and irrigate one million acres of farmland -- be diverted to ecological purposes.”

The broadcasts networks had ample opportunities -- at least 188 -- to examine the impact of environmental regulation and other water management failures. Yet they didn’t once mention them in evening news reports about the California drought between Nov. 1, 2013, (the start of rainy season) and May 3, 2015.

Impact of Environmental Regulations, Failure to Prepare Ignored by Networks

The networks found “lack” of regulation to talk about, but failed to examine regulations creating water problems in California.

Nightly News weather and feature anchor Al Roker complained on Sept. 20, 2014, about the “lack of groundwater regulation” that he said “left poor communities vulnerable,” If Roker and others had bothered to look, they could have found a lot of regulation issues connected to the California drought to discuss. But that would have detracted from the networks’ long-standing support for government and climate alarmism.

None of those 188 stories pointed out the consequences of environmental regulation or the state’s failure to build enough desalination plants to turn seawater into usable water and avert crisis. California could have improved its situation by increasing reservoirs, building desalination plants and prioritizing people’s water needs over fish.

Brown is cracking down on water use by fining over users, and trying to reduce overall usage by 25 percent from 2013 usage levels. However, Associated Press reported that when local water departments were surveyed, water use had fallen by less than 4 percent in the month of March. They’re using smart meters to track Californians’ water use to be able to enforce water restrictions, according to CBS Los Angeles.

Former Hewlett-Packard CEO and Republican presidential candidate Carly Fiorina blamed the California water crisis on “liberal environmentalists,” in early April 2015. “With different policies over the last 20 years, all of this could be avoided,” she said, according to The Washington Times.

“Increased surface storage would give regulators more latitude to conserve water during heavy storm-flows and would have allowed the state to stockpile larger reserves during the 15 years that preceded the last drought. Yet no major water infrastructure project has been completed in California since the 1960s,” the Journal said.

Why? Greens have stood in the way of water storage projects, according to the Journal.

The Journal also noted that Israel is 60 percent desert, but the nation has built huge desalination plants running on natural gas to “weather the driest winter on record in 2014 and a seven-year drought between 2004 and 2010.”

In contrast, “Even in dry years, hundreds of thousands of acre feet of runoff are flushed into San Francisco Bay to protect fish in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta,” in California. According to National Geographic all that water diverting hasn’t even done much to help the Delta Smelt, which remains on the edge of extinction.

National Geographic reported on April 3, 2015, that this fish “has the power to slow the flow of water to thirsty California cities and farms.” In the most recent survey of the fish, biologists found only six fish. Six.

Jason Peltier, deputy general manager of the Central Valley's Westlands Water District, the nation's largest irrigation district, told National Geographic those results were "further proof that redirecting water from human use to environmental use in the name of helping the fish is not working." He added that half of the district’s 600,000 acres of cropland went fallow last year when they got none of the water allocated under long-term contracts.

Writing for The Week, Greg Jones also complained about California’s “shelved” vital infrastructure projects and the way The Clean Water Act and Endangered Species Act had been “hijacked.”

This problem wasn’t a new problem the networks would have had to uncover for themselves. It’s been reported before. In 2009, The American Spectator wrote about farmers losing the battle over water to fish, thanks to environmental regulations.

Central Valley farmers were losing jobs because through the Endangered Species Act the Delta smelt and other endangered wildlife were a higher priority than they were.

“Whether depriving Central Valley farmers of contractually entitled water or placing restrictions on landowners' use of their own properties, endangered species regulations end up hamstringing humans for the benefit of certain plants, fish, and animals that few have heard of and even fewer care about,” The American Spectator reported.

Networks Hyped Climate Threat as Often as Actual Weather Pattern

ABC, CBS and NBC often talked about the severity of what they called the “historic,” and “unprecedented” California drought, about the way it has intensified and extended the wildfire season, and how powerful thunderstorms were bringing much needed water as well as destruction like mudslides.

The vast majority of stories (92.5 percent) did not say anything about what had caused California’s long, dry spell. However, seven stories linked global warming or climate change to the drought in spite of scientific disagreement, while an equal number of stories attributed it the weather pattern impacting the jet stream (a high pressure ridge).

Meteorologist Anthony Watts criticized climate hype connecting the drought to climate change without mentioning weather patterns like El Nino. Watts noted that, “California has had far worse droughts before ‘global warming’ was a glimmer in a scientists’ eye, and these were driven by changes in weather patterns that happened long before CO2 became an issue.”

However, ABC boosted Brown’s claims about global warming on World News Sunday April 5. Not only did national correspondent Kendis Gibson include Brown’s quote about the “damn serious” impact of climate change on California, Tom Llamas teased the report saying, “all of America may soon feel the drought’s effect.”

On May 18, 2014, Nightly News also quoted the California governor who they said “blamed climate change,” saying, “We get heat and we get fires and we get what we’re seeing.”

In the very same reports in which the networks wrongly claimed 2014 was the “warmest year on record,” NBC and CBS both cited the “record drought in California” as evidence of global warming. NBC’s Miguel Almaguer insisted, “from droughts to floods our planet is changing.”

But a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) report released in December 2014, found that computer models of global warming show increased winter rains. They concluded a La Nina weather pattern was the primary driver of drought, The Guardian (UK) reported.

“Peer-reviewed studies are divided on whether the drought can be blamed on climate change,” The Guardian also said.

Climate scientist Richard Seager of the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University told The New York Times, “I’m pretty sure the severity of this thing is due to natural variability.” That was in February 2014.

Seven other stories specifically cited the weather pattern that was keeping California dry. As CBS National Correspondent Ben Tracy pointed out on Feb. 20, 2015, “Scientists blame what they call a ‘ridiculously resilient ridge’ of high pressure off the coast of California.” He said it was responsible for “blocking winter storms and keeping temperatures above normal.”

Scientists Say California Land Shows Evidence of ‘Megadroughts’ Thousands of Years Ago

The California oasis requires water, and tons of it now that 38 million people live in a state that used to be a desert. Creating liveable cities and massive agriculture in a desert took a triumph of human will and engineering. But some scientists say it was constructed during a wet period, a far wetter period than was typical of California.

CBS turned to scientist Lynn Ingram on March 6, 2014, who told CBS that looking back several thousand years there were signs that droughts lasted more than a decade, and sometimes even longer than a century. Tracy then told of “evidence of these so-called mega-droughts” in the San Francisco Bay.

“Scientists say their research shows the 20th century was actually one of the wettest centuries in the past 1,300 years. During that time, we built massive dams and rerouted rivers. We used abundant water to build major cities and create a $45 billion agriculture industry in a place that used to be a desert,” Tracy said.

Clearly those droughts were not caused by the exhaust coming from the tailpipes of SUVs.

Methodology: MRC Business used Nexis to find all the stories that mentioned California and drought in the same news briefs and reports on ABC, CBS and NBC evening news programs from Nov. 1, 2013, (roughly the start of rainy season), through May 3, 2015. 

— Julia A. Seymour is Assistant Managing Editor for MRC Business at the Media Research Center. Follow Julia A. Seymour on Twitter.