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Why Just About Everything You Hear About California's Water Crisis Is Wrong, Wrong, Wrong

The media and the governor are warning of the "worst drought in history" in California We're being lied to.

We've been lied to for years now about the severity of California's water shortage. The media and state officials have been ringing the alarm, warning that the state was in the grips of the quite possibly the "worst California drought in modern history," when in fact the state nearly pulled in its average rainfall in 2009. The fearmongering is about to go into overdrive, as powerful interests start whipping up fears of drought to push through a $11 billion bond measure on the upcoming November elections, setting up the Golden State for a corporate water grab.

One of the big boosters promoting the drought scare is Gov. Schwarzenegger, who declared a state of emergency in early 2009, and promised to reduce water deliveries across the state by a whopping 80 percent .

Such a huge cutback is alarming for a state in which most of the population lives hundreds of miles away from water sources and is dependent on a gargantuan aqueduct system for basic survival. Journalists in a wide range of publications have recently seized on this juicy disaster-in-progress story, hitting their readers with heavy-handed images of drought and suffering that seemed more in line with something filed on a UN humanitarian mission in Somalia than news from the heart of California.

Has the drought really been that bad? According to the November/December 2009 issue of Mother Jones , yes, it has: "[F]armers are selling prized almond trees for firewood, fields are reverting to weed, and farm workers who once fled droughts in Mexico are overwhelming food banks. In short, the valley is becoming what an earlier generation of refugees thought they'd escaped: an ecological catastrophe in the middle of a social and economic one -- a 21st century Dust Bowl." 60 Minutes' recent segment on California's water crisis agreed, proclaimed: "You don't have to go to Africa or the Middle East to see how much the planet is running dry. Just go to California." The New York Times, Los Angeles Times , McClatchy's, the Wall Street Journal -- all have sung the same tune.

When left, right, print, broadcast and mainstream media outlets agree, it has to be true, right? Well, not exactly. Here's what an end-of-the-year update published in November 2009 by the US Bureau of Reclamation had to say about the drought: precipitation in 2009 was about 94 percent of average in Northern California, which is the most important region for precipitation, since it is where three-quarters of the state's water comes from.

Ninety-four percent of average? That does not sound like severe drought conditions at all. But don't tell that to California's Department of Water Resources, which still has a huge DHS-style "Drought Condition Severe" orange alert plastered on its Web site.

The power of simple fact-checking aside, why would California officials exaggerate -- if not outright lie -- about the drought? Well, the issue here is less about the drought itself and more about what a drought -- real or not -- can help achieve. If there is one thing 2009 revealed about California's "action hero" governor, it's that he is eagerly willing to serve as the front man for the sleaziest, most crooked business cartel in the state: a de facto water oligarchy made up of billionaire corporate farmers who run vast stretches of the state like their own personal fiefdoms, exploiting migrant workers for slave labor and soaking the taxpayers for billions of dollars in subsidies every year. And like all good businessmen, they aren't letting a good mini-crisis go to waste. Their objective is to whip up fears of a drought-related calamity to push through a "solution" they've been having wet dreams about for the past five decades: a multi-billion-dollar aqueduct the width of the Panama Canal that would give them near total control of more than half of California's water supplies.

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