By Peter Gleick, President
July 31, 2013
California water science and policy are complicated. California water issues are contentious. And good California water reporting and journalism are rare. This is the world that Mike Taugher tackled, and tackled well. It is thus with dismay and sadness that I and my colleagues learned of Mike’s all-too-untimely death last weekend. His impact will not be forgotten.
At the time of his death, Mike was serving as a spokesman for the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, but before that he was one of the leading water journalists, writing for the Bay Area Newsgroup, with stories in the Contra Costa Times, Oakland Tribune, and San Jose Mercury News.
I first met Mike in June 2002, when he called to talk about the Institute’s work on water, science, drought, climate change, and state policy. He wrote about that in a piece in the CC Times. Even then, he took nothing for granted and nothing on faith – his questions were to the point, they tackled the fundamental assumptions behind a story, and they were unbiased and open-minded.
In 2004, Mike wrote about the threats to Lake Tahoe from warming – a challenge that remains unresolved today. In 2005, he wrote a clear and compelling set of stories about the decline of the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta, bringing together information on the science and policy issues. He also addressed issues around water quality, fish, the health of the Delta levee systems, and economic development.
In 2007 he tackled the impacts of climate change on California’s water systems and the growing need to integrate science into water management. His work overall on climate and water was recognized with an East Bay Press Club award. In 2008 and 2009 he wrote about agricultural water use with pieces in the Oakland Tribune and Contra Costa Times.
But he did more than just report on new science and policy; Mike investigated and dug into one of the most complex and contentious water issues of the day: in 2009 he addressed the political power of wealthy families in the Central Valley and the controversial water trading schemes done at public expense for private gain. In 2010 he wrote about the abdication of state regulators when faced with addressing the collapse of the ecosystems of the Delta.
Mike’s great work was recognized. Among other things, the Bay Institute awarded Mike the “Harold Gilliam Award for Excellence in Environmental Reporting” in 2007. In 2012, he won the California Newspaper Publishers Association award for the Best Environmental Story for his multi-part work on the California Delta.
But what I remember most was knowing that if Mike called about a story, he wanted the facts, the science, and the detail. He would question assumptions and make none of his own. He would ask penetrating questions that got to the heart of a story. And he would write what he thought was important. He was, in short, the quintessential journalist. He set a standard that young journalists would do well to emulate. We will all miss him.
Pacific Institute Insights is the staff blog of the Pacific Institute, one of the world’s leading nonprofit research groups on sustainable and equitable management of natural resources. For more about what we do, click here. The views and opinions expressed in these blogs are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect an official policy or position of the Pacific Institute.