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60 Minutes' Glaring Omission

Most of the media didn't notice a thing, and Media Matters, a very liberal website thought the 'glaring omission' was climate change.

Nov 20, 2014

When we saw the headline "60 Minutes' Glaring Ommission on Groundwater Scarcity" we had high hopes that we would read a story about how the Central Valley has been forced to resort to groundwater because they received 0% surface water. We should have known better.

We hoped that someone in the media would see the obvious, that you can't have sustainable groundwater without surface water. We had hoped to see it in the 60 Minutes report, but it wasn't there either. Their solution seemed to be found in drinking sewage water.

Farmers aren't against sustainable groundwater policy, but there are crucial elements that need to be in place for that to happen. One of them is rain which has been in short supply, and another is surface water delivered with the aid of dams, reservoirs, and canals. We can't make it rain, but we could have reasonable surface water policy. There is a curious lack of curiosity when it comes to the relationship between surface and ground water. Where do they think we are supposed to get the water to put back into the ground. Without surface water there is no way to have a sustainable groundwater plan, unless it rains about double what has been average.

Here's a basic idea of what a sustainable groundwater plan requires: First we count on about a foot of rain (12"); then we count on a foot of surface water; then we count on about a foot of groundwater. We're putting two feet on top of the ground and taking one foot out. That should work out to something like sustainable. When it rains less than a foot the sustainability is in question because now farmers need to pump more water and there is less surface water available. This along with the federal legislation taking away a large chunk of surface water for the fish means even more groundwater pumping. Any wonder there is a crisis?

Farmers can live with these adjustments when there is a reasonable surface water plan, but there is no way for farmers to survive and have sustainable groundwater policy without surface water.

That's the 'glaring omission' we were hoping others would see. Most of the media didn't notice a thing, and Media Matters, a very liberal website thought the 'glaring omission' was climate change.

We scream into the void.

If you missed the 60 Minutes segment you can read the transcript here.


60 Minutes' Glaring Omission On Groundwater Scarcity

Media Matters/Denise Robbins

A 60 Minutes report on groundwater depletion brought attention to a critical issue that many regard as a national security threat, but failed to mention the inherent connection between water scarcity and climate change.

The November 16 edition of 60 Minutes featured a segment on the threat of groundwater scarcity titled "Depleting the Water." In it, host Leslie Stahl covered the severe droughts around the world that are leading people to extract fresh water from the ground at unsustainable rates, warning that "the wars of the 21st century may well be fought over water."

But Stahl completely ignored climate change, which is projected to increase the severity and frequency of such droughts and is inherently linked to groundwater scarcity. A United Nations climate science report concluded earlier this year that manmade climate change will reduce groundwater resources "significantly in most dry subtropical regions," and a 2013 study from Simon Fraser University determined that climate change may already be exacerbating water shortages in many areas around the globe.

The 60 Minutes segment highlighted that California's "record-breaking drought" is inducing farmers to drill for water in underwater aquifers at unsustainable rates -- without mentioning that this drought that has been directly linked by scientists multiple times to manmade climate change. Stahl also highlighted severe droughts across southern Asia and in the Middle East, regions that the National Center for Atmospheric Research and other scientific institutions have projected will experience worsening droughts as the planet warms.

Stahl's comment that groundwater shortages may lead to political unrest also has roots in global warming. As Stahl pointed out, many aquifers that are being severely depleted are in "volatile regions" such as in Iraq and Syria. Many military officials have warned that unabated global warming could exacerbate wars and terrorism and pose a national security threat.

The segment ended by asserting that if no action is taken, California's aquifers could end up completely depleted. But the only responses to the drought that the news magazine covered were a process in which sewage water is recycled into freshwater and a recently enacted law that regulates groundwater. 60 Minutes didn't discuss ways to combat climate change, which would work to prevent catastrophic droughts from happening in the first place.

60 Minutes' failure to mention global warming -- in a segment focused on a problem related to manmade climate change -- follows the news magazine's widely panned report on clean energy, which also made no mention of climate change.

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