A couple months ago I finally did something I’d been meaning to do for a while: subscribe to Good magazine. And when my first issue arrived titled “The Water Issue,” I dove into it, eating it up like the delectable treat it was.
One of the articles headlined “Disobey Your Thirst” featured an interview with outspokenÂ water policy expert Robert Glennon and right off the bat he takes swings at Los Angeles — appropriately for our weak conservation efforts and inappropriately as a “desert.”
It’s a pet peeve of mine whenever my hometown gets refered to so incorrectly as such. So of course I wrote the good editors at Good a letter why from a meteorological perspective, and with the arrival of my second issue last night found that they saw fit to print it:
Robert Glennon’s all wet. Calling Los Angeles a desert, as he did in “Disobey Your Thirst,” is the lazy perpetuation of a fallacy. Certainly there are vast areas of the less-populated northern section of Los Angeles County that are desert, but the coastal plain — and thus the greater Los Angeles basin — is not, and for exactly the reason he sites: the rainfall. Sure, in a bad year such as this one the city of Los Angeles will get 15 inches or less, but given its general Mediterranean climate that’s still far too much for it to qualify as desert. I agree with him that Los Angeles needs to impose greater water conservation restrictions, but before Glennon labels us as that “community in denial” he ought first pull his own head out of the sand and get L.A.’s geography straight.
The origins ofÂ the myth of Los Angeles as being willfully built Cairo-like upon a desert biome can be traced back to Los Angeles Times Publisher Harrison Gray Otis in the early 1900s who widely publicized the falsehood in order to drive support for the Owens Valley aqueduct bonds. It’s a misconception that’s stuck ever since.
Sure, one might argue that Los Angeles would be destroyed if we quit importing the majority of our water from distant sources, yet the same could be said for San Francisco and New York, both of which import water great distances to quench their respective thirsts… or are those metropolii built on deserts, too?