When stories about drought spike, people use less water. - Grist


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Media waterscape

When stories about drought spike, people use less water.

During California’s devastating drought, people started cutting water use even before water districts asked them to do so. Why? A new study suggests it was all the media attention.

Researchers point out that the media barely noticed an earlier drought in California from 2007 to 2009. Water consumption hardly budged during that period.

The more recent drought, however, was news. Reporters came from around the country to cover the state’s driest four-year period in recorded history. As you can see in the graph below, the number of stories spiked as the drought went on.

Major events: (1) June 2008: Governor’s emergency proclamation; (2) February 2009: Drought State of Emergency; (3) January 2014: Drought State of Emergency; (4) July 2014: Outdoor water conservation regulations; (5) December 2014: Rain event; and (6) April 2015: Mandatory statewide water use restrictions. Quesnel et al.

People in most water districts responded by turning off their taps. Some in the San Francisco Bay Area cut water consumption by over one-third. The study found that “an increase of 100 drought-related articles in a bimonthly period was associated with an 11 to 18 percent reduction in water use.”

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