Actor Misleads Californians about Successful Irrigation Program

Actor and activist Mark Ruffalo has released a new video that spreads misinformation about an admired water conservation program that is being used to mitigate California’s historic drought. While Ruffalo, a New York resident, doesn’t have to live with the consequences of his activism, we Californians do.

In the video, Ruffalo intones with grave concern about the Los Angeles Times’ so-called “revelation” that the oil industry provides “wastewater” to farmers in Kern County of irrigation of crops. Ruffalo claims:

“These are organic California almonds. This is California drilling wastewater. And that [sic] is California organic almonds irrigated with California drilling wastewater. Those two don’t go together.”

Powerful stuff, I suppose, if you don’t know the facts. (It also helps to be unaware that almonds are California’s most water-intensive crop.) If Ruffalo had done even minimal research, he would know that this article was discredited and subsequently corrected by the Times. As Lois Henry wrote in the Bakersfield Californian:

 “Spoiler alert: After tests were released by the Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board last month, The Times had to admit in follow-up stories that the water is safe

Test results for the Chevron/CRC water were expected about a month after the Times published its story. Instead of waiting to get those results, — which, again, showed the water is safe — the Times went forward relying on information from a man named Scott M. Smith.” (emphasis added)

Scott M. Smith works for Mark Ruffalo. More on that below.

Minimal research on Ruffalo’s part would also have taught him a more about the Cawelo Water District’s water recycling program that farmers rely on, and perhaps some basic facts how water is produced and disposed of in the oil production process.

As Rock Zierman, CEO of the California Independent Petroleum Association, describes it:

“The fact is that oil production is mostly water production. The drilling process produces billions of gallons of water every year, from which a small amount of oil, relative to water, is removed. This water is treated and made available to water-intensive industries like agriculture, or re-injected back underground from where it came, often to stabilize pressure in the reservoir to prevent subsidence.” (emphasis added)

That’s right. Rather than “using” large amounts of water, as activists often claim, oil drilling produces water not previously in the water cycle. Some of that water is indeed treated as “waste,” and disposed of. But that water is not used for irrigation. Water used for irrigation is treated under a permit issued by the Central Valley water and, as the Times noted, is tested for an even wider group of chemicals than required by law. Regulators affirmed to the Times that this treated water is safe for irrigation.

When Ruffalo pours untreated water into a wine glass full of almonds, then, he is simply scaremongering. He is (perhaps intentionally) ignoring the fact that water used in irrigation has been treated, tested and deemed safe — something that the Los Angeles Times confirmed and something he should know.

Ruffalo also ignores that the California oil industry – under the strictest environmental regulations in the world — has been treating and repurposing its produced water for the benefit of the state’s agriculture industry for more than 20 years. That program, which provides 10 billion gallons of water to farmers each year, is something both farmers and the industry are proud of and talk about often. In fact, it is seen by regulators and local officials as a national model.

As the Los Angeles Times article notes, there have been no problems with contamination of crops as a result of this program.  In fact, as we have previously documented, “concern” about this valuable program has come not from Kern County farmers or consumers of California crops but from an upstate New York-based activist group called Water Defense. The founder of Water Defense is…Mark Ruffalo.

The “chief scientist” of this activist group, who as noted above, was the source for much of the Times’ original reporting, was Scott M. Smith. Smith was less than forthcoming with the Californian when asked to justify claims about his “research” and, as it happens, he is not a credentialed scientist. This may not be a problem for Ruffalo, who serves as the Twitter “megaphone” of an utterly discredited activist-academic.

California’s drought is an emergency, one unlikely to be significantly improved even if expected El Nino conditions arrive this winter. Every measure to conserve water is important and so false claims like Ruffalo’s can cause real and tangible damage to our water and food supplies.

Californians deserve to understand exactly how their food is produced, how their energy is developed and what the economic and environmental costs and benefits are to both. While we have no doubt of Ruffalo’s sincerity, he has either been misled or is intentionally obtuse about the damage he is causing because of an ideological crusade against the energy industry. If the former, we hope this article clarified a few facts.

Mr. Ruffalo is very welcome to visit the Central Valley – he would learn a lot about how people and industries work together in a struggling economy and crippling drought to solve problems. We daresay he would be impressed. But we don’t need to be lectured about a popular and effective water conservation program that is one of the bright spots in California’s drought-mitigation efforts and which has been serving the region well for two decades.




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