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Emily Green: Waterblogged 

Thursday, May 20 2010
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Sometime in the not-too-distant future, Emily Green is likely to be testifying before a congressional hearing on the subject of water. Publisher and editor of Chance of Rain, a blog about the hundreds of different ways water intersects with human life, Green is way ahead of the curve in terms of her sensitivity to the subject. "My grandfather was an orange grower, and horticulture and agriculture just run in my family," says Green, who was born in California. "My father was a physicist who understood that wasting water in California is a bad idea, and I was made aware as a child that it comes from wild sources that can easily be depleted."

Launched in June 2009, Chance of Rain has two contributing editors — KPCC environment reporter Ilsa Setziol and Santa Monica environmentalist Bob Galbreath — but other than that, it's all Green all the time. It's a deep site that's clearly labor-intensive, and Green puts several hours into it every day. For free. "I've been approached by advertisers but turned them down, because advertising could create the possibility of conflict of interest."

Green's career as a journalist began in London in 1987, when she was hired as food critic at The Independent. In the early '90s she expanded her turf to include gardening and environmental issues, and by the mid-'90s she was doing investigative reporting for the science desk at The New Statesman. In 1999 she took a job as a food writer at the L.A. Times on the condition that she also be allowed to cover gardening and the environment, and in 2003 her interest in the subject of water began to deepen.

click to enlarge PHOTO BY KEVIN SCANLON

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"It occurred to me that the entire Southwest is designed to waste water, and that everything we're doing is essentially wrong," she says. "To find out if it was possible to do things better I set out to change things in my own yard. I did everything, from creating zero runoff, to capturing rainwater, to switching to native plants, and last June I started writing about what I was learning in a dry-garden column for the Times."

Green spent 2007 and 2008 focused on a series for the Las Vegas Sun about the city's plans to hijack the water in the Great Basin Aquifer, 300 miles to the north. "It was Owens Valley all over again," says Green, who adds that, "after incredible waste by desert farmers, developers are probably the greatest threat to water."

On completing the series she found herself fishing around for her next big project, never dreaming it would be a blog. "Chance of Rain came about by accident," she explains. "I wanted to have an online CV so I wouldn't have to send out clips every time I pitched a story. Then, once I got the site up, I started blogging almost immediately — it just kind of happened. I started writing the kinds of things I wanted to know, and making available stuff I thought was useful, not just to water wonks but to curious people who aren't part of the scientific community.

"The site is developing a good readership that's an interesting mix of water-policy people, educators and scientists," she continues. "I was flattered when I got some hydrogeologists and a NASA oceanographer, and there are people who write to say they plan to take out their lawn. I make sure there's plenty on the site for them."

As for what it will take to get people to take water seriously, Green says it comes down to "prices and some sort of disaster — and the disaster has already happened. We're in it. Despite all this talk about an El Niño coming, we've had a below-average rain year, and most of our rain washes off into the Pacific, anyway. Our water supply comes from the Bay Delta, Owens Valley, and the Colorado, which is way below normal. In 2002 Southern California built a new reservoir, Diamond Valley Lake, near Hemet, which was earmarked to be California's disaster supply, and that water's being pumped just for normal use.

"Things are going to get ugly very fast, and when I say very fast, I mean that by June we're going to be hearing stories about the bathtub ring around Lake Mead again. We could be looking at real problems, particularly in San Diego. Let's say there's an earthquake in the Delta, which causes a saltwater incursion into where the pumping is done — that would be a major disaster, and it could easily happen."

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