Alternet water story is wrong, wrong, wrong!

Hate to pick on Alternet, which I think is generally great, great, great, but I’m not sure why they chose to publish Yasha Levine’s article titled “Why Just About Everything You Hear About California’s Water Crisis Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong“. (Whoaa, that title is long, long, long!)

I don’t think the article is necessarily wrong X 3, but it’s misleading at best, irresponsible at worst. Levine’s central claim is that, essentially, California is not experiencing a drought. This amazing assertion seems to be based on Levine’s “fact-checking” at the Bureau of Reclamation’s site, which notes in a report about its Central Valley Project (CVP), that Northern California’s 2009 precipitation was 94 percent of the average. While Levine lauds the “power of simple fact-checking,” he (or she) neglects to point out that the report is careful to state that:

. . .runoff remained low at about 70 percent of normal due to the 3 years of dry conditions (based on the Sacramento River Index). In the CVP, runoff is a better indicator for water supply availability than precipitation.

Also, as the table below shows, the end-of-year storage stats for 2007–2009 are substantially (like 40- to 50-percent) lower than the previous two years.

There is a drought in California. Why do I think that? Well, I could just say that it’s because Dr. Peter Gleick, who unlike Levine is an actual expert on California water, says there’s a drought, that’s why. However, read Levine’s own article to see that this is not even a controversial issue. Everybody looking at the situation– except Levine–agrees that there is a drought, as even Levine points out in this article.

I don’t disagree with a lot of Levine’s conclusions. I think the drought is being used to create panic and convince people to support building dams and whatever the flavor-of-the-day name is for a peripheral canal. I believe that there are entrenched water interests working every angle to their advantage, particularly Central Valley corporate farmers. And yes, there’s a whole bunch of lying going on. What I object to is making an absurd claim and cherry-picking facts that support it, and–as characterizes the article in general–failing to link to sources for details and assertions, both to give real reporters credit and lend credence to your piece. And I think that if Alternet wants to be taken seriously as a news source, they won’t publish what is essentially a fact-challenged opinion piece as journalism.