Cross-posted from Legal Planet.
On Sunday, 60 Minutes had a long story on the California water crisis, featuring Lesley Stahl interviewing (among others) Arnold Schwarzenegger and UC Davis professor Jeff Mount. On the positive side, the story accurately portrayed the vulnerability of California’s fragile through-Delta water delivery system to a major earthquake or catastrophic levee break. But CBS News flubbed the overall storyline.
In typical media fashion, it oversimplified the story to “Delta smelt versus farmers,” with barely a mention of the two-year closure of the coastal salmon fishery or the crash of the Bay-Delta ecosystem as a whole. Worse, 60 Minutes swallowed whole a tall tale concocted by anti-regulatory interests: that protecting the Delta smelt has economically crippled California agriculture.
That story is demonstrably false on at least two different levels. First, while the San Joaquin valley has had a tough economic year, its woes have not been driven by water shortages. According to this independent report from economist Jeffrey Michael at the University of the Pacific, the real culprit is the collapse of the housing market and therefore of the construction industry:
Reductions in water deliveries due to environmental regulations have increased the Valley unemployment rate by 0.1 percentage point, and the drought 0.2 percentage points for a total water shortage impact of a 0.3 percentage point increase in the unemployment rate. The construction collapse has increased unemployment by at ...