Vanity Fair profiles The eXile: "Gutsy...visceral...serious journalism...abusive, defamatory...poignant...paranoid...and right!"
MSNBC: Mark Ames and Yasha Levine
Broke the Koch Brothers' Takeover of America
Class War For Idiots / Water Wars / January 8, 2010
By Yasha Levine


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. So journalists 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, proclaiming: “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 pretty much the only region that matters 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.

That’s what the state’s “historic” $11-billion bond measure that will appear on the November 2010 ballot is all about. A columnist at the Stockton Record said it best: It “really amounts to an old-fashioned California water grab based on the failure to face nature’s limits.”

In the convoluted world of California water politics, nothing is ever what it seems. And this time, it appears that even the most well-meaning of journalists fighting the good fight fell hook, line and sinker for the propaganda spun out by California’s well-greased water oligarchy. But if everyone got something as basic as the premise of California’s supposed water crisis — the drought — wrong, what else did they miss? Turns out, quite a bit. With no real drought in California, a lot of the myths, falsehoods and outright lies meant to stir up the masses might no longer makes sense. On the other hand, just because the state has rain doesn’t mean the state can’t run out water, not with the way corporate farmers are ramping up the pumping of the state’s increasingly-overtapped water supplies. So here are the top five things your billionaire-bullshit meter should be picking up:

Myth: Urban water conservation is key in protecting California’s water resources

Schwarzenegger’s mandate that urban water use be cut by 20 percent has earned the governor a lot of green cred, but few people realize that his plan for water conservation is actually a forced wealth transfer scheme in a environmentalist disguise. Conservation is a good idea, but it won’t do much good for California, no matter how diligent residents are about turning off the tap while brushing or the number of low-flush toilets they install, not unless farmers are forced to conserve water as well.

It is a simple matter of discrimination. Why is the agricultural industry exempted from mandatory conservation when it consumes an  unreal 80% of California’s water? There won’t be much conservation going on even if every living soul in California up and moves to another state. Because no matter how much water city dwellers save, it’ll be sucked up by wealthy corporate farmers who are always on the lookout for more taxpayer-subsidized wet wealth. And with water trading for a minimum at ten times what they pay for it on the open market, every gallon a city dweller conserves will will end up as cash in the personal bank account of some wealthy corporate farmers. It’s all part of the master plan because, even as the governor talks up urban conservation, he tries his darnedest to get them more water.

Myth: Irrigation water rationing is causing California’s unemployment to spike to critical levels.

I could quote from a number of news sources — Fox News, CBS, Mother Jones, theNew York Times — to demonstrate the pervasiveness of this bogus notion, but luckily there is no need because most of the stuff is oddly similar to the media spam cranked out by Governor Schwarzenegger’s press secretary. Something like this: “[Drought] conditions are causing a loss of livelihood for many thousands of people, an inability to provide for families, and increased harm to the communities that depend on them . . . the Central Valley town of Mendota, as one example, already reports an unemployment rate of more than 40 percent and lines of a thousand or more for food distribution.”

Had any journalist bothered to look up its unemployment rate for some other year, they would have seen that water has never been a factor. Over a decade ago, Mendota’s unemployment normally ranged from 28 to 32 percent. In 1998, a wet year, it had an unemployment rate of 38 percent. In 2002, a slightly dry year, unemployment was still the same: 37.7 percent.

The chronic hardship seen in Mendota, and the much of the Central Valley, can not be neatly blamed on the weather. There are other bigger, more ominous forces at play here. Mendota is in a bad place, at once existing on the edge of America’s poorest Congressional District and also in one of its wealthiest, most subsidized farming communities: the Westlands Water District. This is how Lloyd G. Carter, a veteran UPI reporter who has covered California’s farming industry for three decades, describes it: “Rule is by the rich. Indeed, in Westlands, which is a public agency, the growers with the most land have the most votes in electing directors to the district’s board. The late Justice William O. Douglas called this voting control by the big growers a corporate political kingdom undreamed of by those who wrote our Constitution.”

To put it another way: the billionaire farmers who run Westlands like their own fiefdom have always liked to keep their labor costs down, preferring low-paid migrant workers to those who would register with the unemployment office.

Myth: The “drought” is hurting small, family farmers — “the backbone of America” — the most.

Small farmers are hurting, but rarely does it have anything to do with water rationing. You’ll find gobs of farmer pity in just about every story filed on the Central Valley, but most forget to mention that the bulk of the land threatened by water shortages is owned by wealthy corporate farmers clustered in and around Westlands Water District, in the driest, hottest and most isolated corner of the Central Valley. Most of these “farmers” don’t rise with the crow of the rooster, but fly in on private jets from Orange County and Beverly Hills. Most journalists, like the one who wrote a long rambling piece in the David Eggers special Bay Area newspaper production, Panorama, insist on painting scenes of family farm life in sentimental pastel while ignoring the greedy geezers who really run the show, and own everyone and everything in sight.


“W” is for “welfare”: two generations of money-grubbing farmers from the Woolf family

But you get to meet one of the boys from Westlands doing his struggling farmer routine on 60 Minutes, giving viewers a walkthrough of his family-farm-in-crisis, explaining how the drought forced him to fallow some of his fields while, in the background, massive shredding trucks turned $18-million worth his almond trees into a neat pile of wood chips. The 60 Minutes segment, like most other farmer profiles, left out the stuff that would squelch any sympathy for their cause. Like the fact that the Woolf family clan operates the “biggest farming operation in Fresno County” that receives $4.2 million in taxpayer-subsidized water every year, enough to supply a city of 150,000 people. In the past decade, the dozen or so companies partially owned by Stuart Woolf have taken in roughly $8 million in federal crop subsidies. But Stuart Woolf still feels like he isn’t getting enough. In 2008,  he threatened a congressional subcommittee that he’d move his family’s farm holdings to Portugal, Spain, Turkey and even China if the feds didn’t give him more taxpayer-subsidized water.

Myth: Water shortages threaten to wipe out California’s agricultural industry, causing a chain reaction that will cripple the state’s economy and raise food prices around the country, maybe even the world.

It’s true, a total meltdown of California’s agricultural industry, the largest in the United States, would be bad news for everyone involved. But the problem with this apocalyptic domino effect, which pops up as a talking point on Schwarzneger’s press releases and is parroted by the likes of Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal, is a pesky thing called reality. Most irrigation districts have been getting their water on schedule. And because the drought has only affected atiny sliver — about two percent — of California’s total farmland, most of which happens to be some of the most heavily-subsidized growing operations in the state, any “multiplier effect” is bound to be limited, if noticeable at all.

Take Westlands Water District, where a sizable chunk of the state’s fallowed farmland is concentrated. The district produces about $1 billion in gross income a year, $750 million of which is funded by water subsidies. Add to that hundreds of millions more in direct crop subsidies, and pretty soon the government ends up funding most, if not all of Westlands’ economic output. Even if Westlands farmers weren’t such welfare queens, it would be hard to get worked even if the entire old billionaire club went under. After all, their entire output amounts to one-half of one percent of California’s $1.8 trillion. And we’re not talking about missing out on vital crops here: who’d even notice an uptick in almond prices?

Myth: Big city environmentalists are making the drought more serious than it actually is.

In 2007, a federal judge limited the amount of water that could be pumped out of Northern California because it endangering a small, but important fish called the Delta smelt, which is now protected by the California Endangered Species Act. Ever since, California’s wealthy Central Valley farmers — including Westlands — have staged a public relations war, blaming big city elitists for caring more about the environment than they do about American farmers. “Thanks to environmental regulations designed to protect the likes of the three-inch long delta smelt, one of America’s premier agricultural regions is suffering in a drought made worse by federal regulations,” pronounced a Wall Street Journal editorial in September 2009.

Fox News took the attack to a whole new level, with Sean Hannity proclaiming that President and his Royal Democratic-Socialist Guard were single-handedly killing off hardworking American farmers and demanded that the Obama “turn this water on now.” The funny thing is that Obama had already done that, when the court-ordred pumping restrictions were lifted three months earlier.

The reason these farmers weren’t getting their water had nothing to do with the fish, and all to do with their “junior” water rights and a bailout business mentality. In the past decade, farmers had lobbied for and received 30% more water than they did in the 1990s, knowingly taking a gamble by planting permanent, high-cost crops in an area first to suffer water cutbacks during dry times. But they did it anyway, fully expecting to get the government to keep delivering the water even in a time of drought, which it has. According to the  Environmental Defense Fund, even the most junior water rights holders were receiving almost all of their water all throughout 2009.

Where has all that water gone? Well, some of the farmers have been selling it on the open market, frequently flipping their heavily taxpayer-subsidized water back to the government for twice the price. One millionaire farmer-cum-real-estate-developer made roughly $60 million selling his welfare water to a McTractHome paradise in the Mojave Desert, selling water was easier and more lucrative than farming.

Bonus myth: the drought has sparked a grassroots movement of farm owners and farm workers, uniting to pressure the government for more water.

Nothing exposes Arnold Schwarzenegger and his billionaire farmers backers for the sadistic slime balls that they are than the Latino Water Coalition, an astroturf group created by farming interests, paid for by taxpayer money and blessed by the governor himself. The group was designed to give a populist face to a purely corporate cause, paying poor Latino migrant workers to take part in protests staged for the benefit of Fox News’ camera, even sent to go on a 5-day “March for Water” to draw attention to California farmers’ plight and generally exploiting the exploited so that you can help you exploit them even more. But the worst part about it is that well-meaning journalists fell for it.

This article was first published by AlterNet.


Yasha Levine is a mobile home inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at]

Yasha Levine is a mobile home inhabitin’ editor of The eXiled. He is currently stationed in Victorville, CA. You can reach him at levine [at]

Read more: , , , Yasha Levine, Class War For Idiots, Water Wars

Got something to say to us? Then send us a letter.

Want us to stick around? Donate to The eXiled.

Twitter twerps can follow us at


Add your own

  • 1. OJ  |  January 8th, 2010 at 5:21 am

    I long for the old days when shit like this would end in estates being mobbed by an angry populace and the aristocrats’ heads marched around on pikes.

  • 2. maninwarren  |  January 8th, 2010 at 7:48 am

    When individuals gain power over and above the average citizen, the only thing that keeps said individuals from abusing that power is the power of the People, as embodied in the laws of the land and the courts which mete out justice. In the USA, the power of the People has been supplanted by the power of Corporations, and so instead of serving the People, government agencies serve the Corporations. As such, when there is no conflict between the Corporations and the People, all is well. When there is such a conflict, the Corporations generally win; certainly they are winning the war, despite losing a battle now and again.

    And this is ultimately because Americans are absolutely dependent on Corporations for their livelihoods. see:
    We’ve sold our freedom and self-sufficiency for comfort and convenience, and now the bill is coming due. We’re fucked.

  • 3. Not important  |  January 8th, 2010 at 7:57 am

    Don’t go there, Jack. That’s China town…

  • 4. Peter  |  January 8th, 2010 at 8:07 am

    Unsustainable agriculture has always been a curse on mankind.
    These California oligarchs need to learn to work with what they’ve got or leave.
    It would be hilarious to see the guy in the article who threatened to move to China actually do it. Try screwing the public over there and see what happens.

    Great article, keep it up Levine. You should phone into the Sean Hannity show.

  • 5. anonymous coward  |  January 8th, 2010 at 9:45 pm

    I dearly love Paul Verhoeven, and don’t blame him for the monster he helped to create. I’d like to point out that to really understand Arnold Schwartzenegger you really just need to imagine that Total Recall had ended differently.

    The evil Arnold in that movie, best friend of the evil Martian land developer? That was the real Arnold.

  • 6. Alex_C  |  January 9th, 2010 at 2:30 am

    As I’ve mentioned, an income over $250k needs to earn a death sentence, I’ll shoot ’em myself let’s get this set up and get it going. I think there are some nice gravel pits around here to stand ’em in front of, we can use ’em for biofuel or pig feed or something. Soap … Yeah …. soap.

    The whole oligarch class needs to be eliminated, not by sending ’em to retirement homes or jails, nope don’t waste a single bowl of soup or prison pajamas on ’em, just one bullet, as I say, line ’em up I’ll do it. I’m sure many will be happy to do it, all of us once-middle-class, now we make what the average Iraqi does, we have nothing to lose, let us have one of the few forms of fun that will be left: Gunning down, garroting, or gutting oligarchs.

  • 7. Stephen Wordsworth  |  January 9th, 2010 at 6:50 pm

    Sure save water by closing all the farms because are the biggest consumer, and then we will see where such a bankrupt state can afford to import its food from.

  • 8. Fischbyne  |  January 9th, 2010 at 7:45 pm

    You provide an usually good rundown on the interests hoarding California water supplies. No one should be shedding tears for rich farmers, and thank you for bringing attention to the illegitimacy of the Latino Water Coalition. But please note that California did in fact have drought or near-drought rainfall levels for three years prior to 2009. Your argument will be stronger if you address this.

  • 9. Mad Nomad  |  January 10th, 2010 at 4:59 am

    7. Stephen Wordsworth

    I would agree. Close down the farmers that can’t farm in an arid climate without handouts. You are better off economically importing food than wasting precious water on true idiots or sleezy scam artists.


    Would be interested in learning if there is any connection between the water-horders and firms selling arsenic filtration. If I were an investor, that would be where my money would go. Chances are, it might be where some of the water-horder money is also going (given that they are pumping the stuff into their “water banks”).

  • 10. lamar  |  January 10th, 2010 at 7:10 am

    i mean if this is true wouldnt it be some type of investigation or something really

  • 11. mx?  |  January 10th, 2010 at 7:12 am

    blood-pumping stations, selling water clandestinely, a life-sucking elite class, recent “gone postal” shootings…when did the US turn into a Dystopian society?

  • 12. Joe Illing  |  January 10th, 2010 at 7:26 am

    The state of California doesn’t pay for food, consumers do. If the market for food supplies were opened then consumers would have the choice of purchasing foods from various countries and a “drought” in California wouldn’t have such disastrous effects. But that would also mean an end to the gravy train for corporate farms so I doubt that would ever happen.

  • 13. Bhagwan Mike  |  January 10th, 2010 at 11:47 am

    I went to the URL for the statement that the Gov wants to reduce water delivery by 80%, but could only find that he wants people to conserve 20%. Am I missing something, or are you fear mongering for a reason? The previous year’s rainfall was abysmal, for anyone with a short memory, and while I don’t doubt that the fat cats will always find a way to rip off the public, this seems a bit egregious.

  • 14. Alex_C  |  January 11th, 2010 at 12:11 pm

    I think the point is that there’s not that much of a water shortage, and that the oligarchs want to starve the farms of water so they can sell water to their buddies who own golf courses.

  • 15. Erik  |  January 11th, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    When left, right, print, broadcast and mainstream media outlets agree, it has to be true, right?

    Nice touch of sarcasm there.

  • 16. Erik  |  January 11th, 2010 at 4:55 pm

    Sterling stuff, Yasha. I wish we had a website like yours in my part of the woods.

  • 17. Spud  |  January 12th, 2010 at 7:51 am

    Overall a pretty good article, but as noted in other comments – hyperbolic.

    The San Luis Reservoir, something I pass by on a regular basis, is at very low levels and has been for years at levels under what I remember in the ’80s.

    A government overview on its history and useage:

  • 18. Benjamin Wilson  |  January 12th, 2010 at 8:00 am

    Yasha, YOU KICK ASS! Pinning down Corperate Ag, The California Legislature, and even Schwartzee on corruption, fraud, and greed in water policy. This is the most evil exploitation of natural resources and public trust imaginable. Unfortunately the majority of mindless liberal intellectuals in California seem to believe our “Trusted Public Servants” are doing a fine job of protecting the environment, delivering clean water to our cities while promoting growth and wealth; which is the vision of all. Watch as this caustic water policy becomes a nightmare; California’s ruinous end, salinium rich waterways and stagnant salt marshes is what our future will embrace.

  • 19. liberalMentalD1s0rder  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:49 pm

    There are no serious water shortages. Are you kidding me?

    Then there’s the electricity problem. Once the water level goes down to a certain point electricity dams won’t be able to provide that much electricity. Picture blackouts. Some of them might last weeks instead of days.

    Calis water infrastructure is DYING for private investment but as we all know Cali is dominated by leftists marxists and the Govt. Runs the water system. (which is does a crappy job at doing) Besides, no mayor or lawmaker wants to raise taxes to updated the water infrastructure, it won’t get him/her any votes. So they just let pass the problem to the next mayor, and the next, and the next one, etc… passing the problem to the future generation. Oh yea Cali has the one of the highest tax burdens in the Union and still they are in the red.Just look at a LA from space. Why won’t they just build an L.A. dam that STORES the water instead of just wasting it by letting it go into the Pacific?

    Then there’s the welfare queen so called “farmers” who get subsidized. Why not charge em the market price for water? they would use the water more wisely. Or just reduce subsidies little by little?

  • 20. liberalMentalD1s0rder  |  January 12th, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    6. Alex_C

    “As I’ve mentioned, an income over $250k needs to earn a death sentence, I’ll shoot ‘em myself let’s get this set up and get it going.”

    Your a friggin Moron. Most people I know who make just over $250,000 K are small business owners and Employ 12 – 100 people. Small biz create the most jobs. Your leftist logic punishes the little guys. Cali taxes the crap out of the small business and look where they are at right now. Business are fleeing the state in droves into other states (or outsourced to other countries) More unemployment (but the GOP states are doing better because they have more biz opening up)

    Maryland had the idea to raise taxes on the millionaires (Tax the rich!) to cover their deficit. Result? there were 1/3 fewer millionaires because they fled the state and Maryland was deeper in the red. Lib economic policies just don’t work.

  • 21. Hoppalong Cassidy  |  January 12th, 2010 at 8:34 pm

    Some historical perspective:

    Back in 1994, Paul Bettencourt, the old face of Westlands Water District, got on Fresno TV to promote their solution to the problem of selenium tainted drainage water on the west side of the San Joaquin Valley. Westlands’ solution was to feed it into the California Aqueduct, since selenium is a beneficial element to the millions drinking the water downstream in LA.

    Because none of Westlands’ farms drain out to sea, the water is collected in big evaporation ponds, where the concentration of salts and metals is strong enough to kill vegetation and deform waterfowl. Plan B for Westlands’ waste disposal is to use taxpayer money to dig a canal from the west side of the Valley to the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta. Naturally, people in the Bay Area hate this, and the project has been stalled until eternity.

    So…they want government money to ship in water, and they need government money to process their effluent.

    Westlands is so predatory that they sued their neighboring water district a few years ago to steal the water from the Friant-Kern canal.

    Long-term, most soils within Westlands will approach the end of their useful life within 10-20 years anyway, due to the effects of alkalai infiltration. The region will end up looking like the area around the Aral sea, a sun-blazed and dusty hellhole barren of vegetation.

    And they will want a bailout.

  • 22. liberalMentalD1s0rder  |  January 14th, 2010 at 9:02 pm

    “Since selenium is a beneficial element to the millions drinking the water downstream in LA”

    Isn’t that what water treatment plants are for? or is the Cali govt. too leftist, too broke, to currupt to built more or upgrade em?

  • 23. mogar  |  January 15th, 2010 at 1:43 am

    6. Alex_C
    “As I’ve mentioned, an income over $250k needs to earn a death sentence, I’ll shoot ‘em myself let’s get this set up and get it going.”

    They will be shooting back tuff guy.

  • 24. george  |  January 15th, 2010 at 7:02 am

    soylent green is people

  • 25. moe axelrod  |  January 15th, 2010 at 8:04 am

    I had to laugh at the 60 min. spot on the drought… Leslie Stahl standing in the desert and exclaiming that the soil looked like sand… What an idiot.. Leslie, your in a freakin desert! Then the “farmer” whining that he did nothing wrong just trying to run his business.. Hello! You are trying to farm in a DESERT. Earth to Leslie have you ever heard of SUSTAINABILITY?

  • 26. George Busch  |  January 15th, 2010 at 1:06 pm

    Hey! Morons! Learn the difference between your and you’re before pointing fingers!

  • 27. Ben  |  January 16th, 2010 at 5:12 pm

    The way you know that your government is the worst government on the planet full of idiots who couldn’t properly manage their way out of a paperbag? When you got NO WATER.

    It’s coming.

  • 28. gool 'ol johnny  |  January 19th, 2010 at 3:23 pm

    California water is pretty damn nasty anyway…

  • 29. Nichole  |  March 1st, 2010 at 12:37 pm

    80% to Agriculture… is 80% of water not allocated to environmental purposes. Don’t forget what the “greedy farmers” do….they grow food that everyone that has commented on this article purchases at the grocery store and eats at restaurants. Farmers – even the “corporate” (who are most likely family run businesses that have “incorporated” for tax and liablity purposes) do not live in Bill Gates or George Clooney type houses. Watch where you spew venom – they also dont produce energy sucking appliances or travel the globe in private jets. I only know of one or two “millionare” farmers – dont know any billionaires.

Leave a Comment

(Open to all. Comments can and will be censored at whim and without warning.)


Required, hidden

Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed