As news coverage of California's most recent drought intensified, water use trends went down—suggesting news might inspire consumers to conserve. Christopher Intagliata reports.
California's most recent drought - which officially ended this spring - made national, even international news. <<NEWS MONTAGE: "We're in an historic drought / The driest on record / One of the worst droughts in recent history / California is in big trouble.">>
And that saturated coverage may have actually influenced Californians to conserve more water—compared to an earlier drought, from 2007 to 2009, which snagged far fewer headlines.
Researchers tallied all drought-related stories from nine major newspapers from 2005 to 2015. They also counted Google queries, and saw drought-related searches spike as more news appeared.
Then they analyzed water use in the San Francisco Bay Area. And after controlling for other factors—like weather and unemployment—they found that drought news was significantly linked to a cut in water waste: up to an 18 percent drop per 100 news articles in a two-month period.
The results are in the journal Science Advances. [Kimberly J. Quesnel and Newsha K. Ajami, Changes in water consumption linked to heavy news media coverage of extreme climatic events]
Study author Newsha Ajami, a hydrologist at Stanford University, says more water news—from any source—is good for consumers.
"Obviously it's great the media's covering this, but on a non-drought or non-emergency situation, water agencies can actually step up their education and outreach efforts and create a more sort of two-way communication stream between them and their water users and customers."
So that the next time the state dries up, residents might more readily turn off the tap.
[The above text is a transcript of this podcast.]