Water Day at the L.A. Times

It may have been a fluke, but the Sunday edition of the Los Angeles Times was seemingly all about water — and the coverage was pro environment. 

The stories included a strong editorial supporting L.A’s approach to California’s water scarcity paradigm and opposing billions for more dams (OK, I’m not a fan of replumbing the Delta, but the rest of the piece was strong). There was a piece on Bolsa Chica’s increased biological productivity after wetland restoration, another in the Sports section about Heal the Bay volunteer Mary Setterholm and her ongoing efforts to teach thousands of inner city kids to surf, and yet another editorial on water scarcity’s potential impact on growth. (BTW, will someone please demand statewide water metering within five years?)

They also ran a small, terrifying piece about fish ebola in the Great Lakes, a puff piece on sports stars’ love for Manhattan Beach and the Bay, and a final editorial on how anti-government political leadership has left us a lot less protected from pathogenic microbes (often from contaminated water) and toxics in our food and consumer products. Last but not least, the paper highlighted the opening of the first downtown park in over a hundred years: Vista Hermosa, a multi-use park that infiltrates polluted stormwater that was built and now managed by the Santa Monica Mountains Conservancy.

My surprise stems from how the thoughtful coverage can survive, given all the carnage that has hit the Times this year, with deep layoffs and journalists jumping to other pastures (right now, they are all greener).  Casualties have included the excellent journalist Jim Newton, who oversees the editorial pages, and reporter Deborah Schoch, who has covered everything from the fight for Bolsa Chica’s restoration, to the Army Corps’ horrible traditionally navigable water decision for the L.A. River, and the continued battle to protect O.C.’s natural resources from toll road after toll road.

However, the biggest loss for the environmental movement is Marla Cone’s departure from the Times. She is a superb and thorough reporter who really “got” the science on the aquatic life and public health consequences of organochlorines in the environment. Santa Monica Bay has the worst DDT hotspot on the planet.  It was Marla that let everyone know about it.  Marla also introduced the world to the toxic challenges faced by the Inuit people, who have  the world’s highest levels of DDT and PCBs in their blood and breast milk. She even wrote a book in 2005 on the topic, “Silent Snow: The Slow Poisoning of the Arctic.” Her series of articles on polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) flame retardants helped lead to a California ban on several PBDEs, an action followed by numerous other states. In short, Marla is the sort of journalist that takes on the highly technical, controversial issues and provides truly balanced (as opposed to Fox News’ “fair and balanced”) stories that lead to environmental improvements. We will miss her coverage in the Times greatly, but hope her work will continue in a new, more positive venue.

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