Debunking the #1 Water Scarcity Myth

I thought CBS News’s story about water scarcity was good considering the short duration (Watch the video here). However, one myth continues to be spread in the popular press. The myth is that 36 states will face water shortages.

This statement comes from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) in a report published in 2003 titled “FRESHWATER SUPPLY: States’ Views of How Federal Agencies Could Help Them Meet the Challenges of Expected Shortages” The report was generated after the 2002 drought to help federal agencies determine how their activities affect states and how they can be more supportive of state efforts to meet their future water needs.

The report states that “even under normal conditions, water managers in 36 states anticipate shortages in localities, regions, or statewide in the next 10 years.”

How did all the water resource planners in the GAO calculate this shortage?

They didn’t.
The results were only a compilation of web-based surveys of state water managers. Three important states didn’t even participate; California, Michigan, and New Mexico.

FAIL.

1 Comment

  1. While I agree that the GAO could have done a better job of coming up with a substantive depiction of anticipated shortages (rather than the lazy man's path of simply asking water managers what they thought), how exactly is the statement in their report inaccurate or misleading? They don't say that the GAO predicts a shortage in 36 states, they're not saying that shortage will ONLY be limited to 36 states or that water managers in 36 out of 50 states predict shortages. They're saying clearly that water managers in 36 states expect shortages, which is correct.Yes, it's kind of a useless statistic that doesn't tell the whole story, and yes, GAO's report would have been much stronger if they had actually done some independent analysis, but it seems that the failing here is with the press, who apparently lacked either the basic reading comprehension skills to parse GAO's statement, or were just plain dumb enough to assume that if water managers say it's so, it must be true.

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