Fox News is fearmongering that the EPA is going to monitor the shower use of hotel guests because the agency gave a research grant to college students working on a wireless device that would allow hotels to examine guests' shower use and encourage water conservation. Fox News portrayed this as a “Big Brother move,” despite a complete absence of evidence that the agency will actually monitor hotel guests' water usage. Further, research into water conservation -- including this project -- is desperately needed as the West Coast suffers from a historic drought.
The EPA recently awarded the grant, for $15,000, to student researchers at the University of Tulsa. The EPA's description of the grant says the device will “assist hotel guest[s] in modifying their behavior to help conserve water.”
On the March 18 edition of Fox & Friends, co-host Heather Nauert reported on the story by saying, “Well, forget about taking a long, hot shower on vacation, and if you think you're doing it in private, well, you might want to think again.” A graphic in the segment also gratuitously claimed: “EPA To Start Monitoring Showers At Hotels”:
Other right-wing media took the fearmongering even further, publishing stories with headlines like “The EPA wants to watch you in the shower” and “New EPA Proposal Would Spy On Hotel Guests In The Shower.” Rush Limbaugh baselessly warned on the March 17 edition of his radio show that if the grant is implemented, “you're gonna have one in your house before too long.” He went on to say, “Everybody's afraid of this administration. Everybody is. So then the EPA is gonna monitor the length of your showers -- My point is, if this ever really happens, this is not gonna stop at hotels. You're gonna have one of these in your house.”
The EPA is not going anywhere near your shower. The agency is merely supporting research that would send data on water use to a central hotel accounting system -- much like a smart meter that supplies information to utilities about residents' electricity consumption habits. The device could ultimately help companies save money as well as protect the environment. Many hotels have several conservation efforts currently in place; it makes economic sense to do so.
And this sort of research, which could help reduce some of the millions of gallons of potable water wasted each year by hotel guests, is urgently needed, as a great portion of the United States is experiencing devastating drought. As Fox News reported on the March 16 edition of Happening Now, the West Coast is in “desperate need of water.” Correspondent William La Jeunesse reported that snow pack and groundwater in California are “at record lows right now after four years of drought,” adding that the state “literally has one year's supply of water left in its reservoirs,” referring to a recent warning from NASA senior water scientist Jay Famiglietti.
Famiglietti wrote in the Los Angeles Times:
[T]he public must take ownership of this issue. This crisis belongs to all of us -- not just to a handful of decision-makers. Water is our most important, commonly owned resource, but the public remains detached from discussions and decisions.