Gleickgate Pollutes Enviro Movement

by CalWatchdog Staff | February 24, 2012 8:51 am

[1]FEB. 24, 2012


The environmental movement is suffering from a cluster of scandals.

First there was Climategate[2].

Then there was Climategate 2.0[3].

Now, there’s Climategate 3.0 — also called “Gleickgate[4].”

Climate activist Dr. Peter Gleick of the Pacific Institute[5] of water policy in Oakland may face criminal charges that he deceptively obtained data from a conservative think tank, the Heartland Institute, then “doctored” it and disseminated it on the web to libel that organization. Gleick has admitted he is the source of the leaked data but denies he produced the doctored document.

Andrew Revkin[6], the Dot Earth columnist for the New York Times, says Gleick’s admission that he deceptively obtained emails from the Heartland Institute will destroy his reputation and career.

Centrist professor of foreign affairs at Bard College Walter Russell Mead[7] states on his Via Meadia blog:

“Reckless and sensationalist actions like Gleick’s are a reminder of the wild and loony side of the green movement — no group certain of its own arguments should feel the need to stoop to this level, and it will take a long time for the movement to be trusted again in the eyes of the public.”

The[8] website is reporting Gleick is likely to face criminal charges which could involve serving jail time for libeling the Heartland Institute.  The Heartland Institute has reportedly called the FBI into the case.

Liberal economist Megan McArdle[9], writing at The Atlantic magazine online, says she is “very surprised a man of Gleick’s stature would take this sort of risk, on such flimsy evidence.”

What did Gleick do?  Writing in Forbes magazine, James Taylor[10], a senior environmental policy analyst at the Heartland Institute online, explains it:

“In short, Gleick set up an email account designed to mimic the email account of a Heartland Institute board member. Gleick then sent an email from that account to a Heartland Institute staffer, in which Gleick explicitly claimed to be the Heartland Institute board member. Gleick asked the staffer to email him internal documents relating to a recent board meeting. Soon thereafter, Gleick, while claiming to be a ‘Heartland Insider,’ sent those Heartland Institute documents plus the forged ‘2012 Climate Strategy’ document to sympathetic media and global warming activists.” 

In the liberal magazine The Atlantic[11], Megan McArdle explains the heart of the ethical problem involved:

“Impersonating an actual person is well over the line that any reputable journalist needs to maintain. I might get a job at Food Lion to expose unsafe food handling.  I would not represent myself as a health inspector, or regional VP.  I don’t do things that are illegal. 

“Nor would I ever, ever claim that a document came from Heartland unless I personally received it from them, gotten them to confirm its provenance, or authenticated it with multiple independent sources. And ethics aside, what Gleick did is insane for someone of his position — so crazy that I confess to wondering whether he doesn’t have some sort of medical condition that requires urgent treatment.  The reason he did it was even crazier…. I would not have risked jail or personal ruin over something so questionable, and which provided evidence of…what? That Heartland exists?  That it has a budget?  That it spends that budget promoting views which Gleick finds reprehensible?” 

According to Mark Gunther[12] ,writing at the Website, Gleick likely sees himself as something of a hero who possibly hopes to use the discovery process in any legal action taken against him to embarrass the Heartland Institute.  But embarrass them with what: That they used donors’ funds to exercise their First Amendment right of free speech?

Ironically, it is reported that Gleick was chairman of the American Geophysical Union’s Task Force on Scientific Ethics until he resigned last week.

Dr. Gleick may have perpetrated a fraud and libeled the Heartland Institute. But that is not the only action of Dr. Gleick that has been questionable.

Slick Gleick’s Water Tricks

Here at, we have previously taken Dr. Gleick to task for his misleading op-ed columns[13] in newspapers across the state saying:

1) There “isn’t enough water to satisfy 100 percent of demand” in California;
2) Agriculture consumes 80 percent of all the water in California; and
3) There are eight times as many water rights given away as there is water available in an average year.

All of the above statements by Gleick about California water are partial truths and overblown distortions that are never put in context.  Nor are the assumptions about such statistics disclosed as would be required by any ethical scientist.   Let’s take a quick look at Gleick’s claims.

1.   Gleick: Not Enough Water To Meet 100 Percent of Demands.

According to data from Cal State University at Stanislaus, there is on average 194.2 million acre-feet of precipitation and imported water in California per year (see table below). An acre-foot of water is enough to supply two families per year; or one acre of farmland. Deducting the 39.4 million acre-feet of water that goes to the environment on an average year, that would leave 154.8 million acre-feet of water.  That would equate to enough water for 774 million people per year. (154.8 x 2 x 2.5 persons per household.) Or it would be 154.8 million acres of farmland. So much for Gleick’s claim that there isn’t enough water to supply 100 percent of demand in a year.

Contrary to Gleick’s widely disseminated claims, there is enough potential water.  The problem is not necessarily a shortage of water caused by waste by agriculture or cities but capture, storage, conveyance, and treatment of potential water resources.

2. Gleick: Agriculture Uses 80 Percent of All Water.

According to the California Department of Water Resources official statistics, agriculture uses 42 percent of all “dedicated” water for human use in an average year.  In a wet year, agriculture uses 28 percent of the water and in a dry year, 52 percent.
To claim that agriculture uses 80 percent of the water one would have to assume that every year is a dry year and that the pool of water one is referring to is the total amount of water for “human use.”

A percentage is the ratio between a whole and a part.  If you make the whole smaller, the part appears bigger.

There are three concentric rings of water in California (see table below):

  1. The largest amount of water is total precipitation and imported water, which is 194.2 million acre feet per year on average;
  2. The next largest is total “available” water, which is about 82.5 million acre-feet on average; and
  3. The smallest amount is water for “human use,” which is 43.1 million acre-feet of water on average.  Gleick uses this amount to determine the percentage of agricultural use of water, but only on a dry year.

In other words, one would have to assume the smallest amount of water — water for “human use” — and a continuous drought to say that agriculture uses 80 percent of all water in California.  Failure to disclose these preconditions is misleading.

California depends on “monsoon-like” rains in wet years to fill reservoirs. Cites and farms depend on the water from wet years until the next cyclical wet year.  To accurately report how much water agriculture uses, “average” data must be used, not data from a dry or a wet year.  Gleick uses data from a dry year and the narrow supply of water for “human use” — not total potential water or all available water — to derive his 80 percent figure. He also presumes there is no water storage or groundwater resources available.  Cities and farms often use groundwater during dry years to offset less imported supplies.

To repeat, 42 percent is the official figure the California Department of Water Resources uses for average agricultural water use.  This is about half of what Dr. Gleick claims.

And if we take into consideration all the water supplies from precipitation and imported water in a wet year, then agriculture would only use about 8 percent of total potential water.

It is misleading to not disclose the assumptions on which an estimate is based.  Dr. Gleick never discloses what circumstances would result in agriculture using 80 percent of “dedicated” water supplies. Such circumstances would include:

* Wet or dry year;
* Total potential water;
* Available water;
* Water only for human use;
* Whether all storage reservoirs and groundwater basins are empty.

When assumptions are not disclosed, it is not ethical science that is reported but propaganda.

3. Gleick: Eight Times Water Rights Have Been Contracted.

It is likely true that eight times as much water has technically been contracted as there is water available from various water sources.  But under what conditions is this true?  As Mike Wade of the Agricultural Coalition explains: “The truth is water rights permits are issued for time and place of use, not gross quantity.”

For example, it is typical to grant greater water rights during a wet year. And then by comparing the amount of water in those wet year grants to the water in a dry year, one can fallaciously conclude that the water rights granted are eight times the amount available in a dry year.  But in a dry year, it is typically not permitted to draw water or only draw to less of it.

The exercise of water rights is based on contingencies such as rainfall.  It can also be based on court adjudicated restrictions such as the “safe yield”[14] of a groundwater basin so that the basin is not depleted.

So it is misleading to say the contracted water rights are eight times the capacity. If it were true that water rights granted were eight times the amount of available water, this would have perpetrated a contractual fraud.  And such frauds and disputes have historically been brought before courts of law for adjudication.  One would have to assume there is no court system to adjudicate the claims of those who hold water rights to make the outlandish statement that water rights exceed water supplies.

Many Phish Swim In Unpure Water

We will await the outcome of any future legal actions to report what, if any, alleged crimes Gleick may or may not have committed with Heartland Institute documents.  Gleick’s self-admitted reckless and apparently delusional actions in the Heartland scandal don’t aid in the credibility of his interpretations of the data about agricultural water usage.

What Gleick admittedly did is called “phishing” in Internet language, which is defined as: To request confidential information over the Internet under false pretenses in order to fraudulently obtain credit card numbers, passwords, or other personal data.

There is a saying, “Water that is too pure has no fish.”

So of Gleick’s actions, we could say, “Unpure water has many phish.”

Percentage of Agricultural Water Under Various Scenarios (Million Acre Feet)



Precipitation   and Imports
(raw water – developed and   undeveloped)

Total in Millions of Acre Feet 335.8 194.2 145.5
Agriculture MAF 27.7 27.7 27.7
Percent Ag 8.2% 14.3% 19%


Total   Developed Water

Urban,   Agriculture & Environment

(raw water –   developed only)

Total in Millions of Acre Feet 97.5 82.5 65.1
Agriculture MAF 27.7 34.3 34.1
Percent Ag 28.4% 41.6 52.4%


Urban   and Agricultural Use
(raw & treated water)

Total in Millions of Acre Feet 35.4 43.1 42.7
Agriculture MAF 27.7 34.1 34.1
Percent Ag 78.2% 79.1 79.9%
Primary data source:[15]




  1. [Image]:
  2. Climategate:
  3. Climategate 2.0:
  4. Gleickgate: http://writing%20in%20Forbes%20magazine
  5. Pacific Institute:
  6. Andrew Revkin:
  7. Walter Russell Mead:
  9. Megan McArdle:
  10. James Taylor:
  11. In the liberal magazine The Atlantic:
  12. Mark Gunther:
  13. misleading op-ed columns:
  14. “safe yield”:

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