In my view the Heartland Institute owns the recently expired Megawatershed hoax.  That colossal misrepresentation of the fundamentals of hydrology, along with its promises of unlimited fresh and presumably affordable H2O, might have been big, perhaps almost as big as climate change, if things had gone differently.  But at this point, the entire megawatershed promotion has all but disappeared from history and the internet.

Water issues are often ripe for abuse by specialized experts.  As a practicing expert witness who has developed a career opposing powerful interests and their hydrologic hired guns, I have encountered both clients and other hydrologists who appeared to find that truth – bending was justified.   I plan to profile some of these encounters at this blog when time permits.

Thanks for tolerating that detour on my capacity.  I have a concern not only with deceptive testimony but also deceptive papers and work products.
And just like many memes, any given deception may retreat back into the shadows until another day and another opportunity.  In other words, as many know, when a hoax is removed from public memory, that can enable future promotions of the same.   If people don’t remember the history lesson, they cannot learn from it.   Accordingly I feel it is important that those who follow climate change and its celebrity pros and cons, should become more familiar with the Megawatershed promotions.

The Megawatershed has several similarities to the anthropogenic global warming (AGW) promotions.  Both claim to have identified an atmospheric and hydrologic problem that only its authors can appear to detect and solve.  Both appear to work to insulate claims from outside review and accountability.  Both have involved persistent disregard of past published literature and common understandings.  Both appear to involve connections between scientists and people in policy and diplomatic fields.  Both appear to have had support from venture interests.  Finally, both are simply wrong.

If the megawatershed hoax had prevailed, then its advocates would owe much to  Heartland Institute’s Science Director Jay Lehr.  Almost solely by virtue of an appeal to his hydrologic authority and expertise as captured in his Water Encylopedia (featured image), he gave the notion its short lived credibility.

About a decade ago, I and some others appear to have helped to shut down the megawatershed promotions by asking important hydrological questions and making comments at its Wikipedia page.  The page was removed shortly thereafter, followed by removal of a professionally produced YouTube video.  The video featured the Megawatershed promoting company EarthWaterGlobal, and its complement of technical staff and directors, with impressive science-like graphics.  Now hardly a soul can be found to own up about this disturbing chapter in the history of hydrology.  Some helpful and contextual information about belated challenges to the megawatershed promotion is available at this site post authored by a colleague, Michael Campana, Hydrology Professor at Oregon State Univeristy.

I don’t find much in common with Mike Campana any longer since the emergence of silly but dangerous climate change promotions.  But prior to that onset, in Mike Campana’s post and simply through reading of basic texts, one will find that Robert Bisson, founder of EarthWater Global, promoted that vast untapped and fresh (non-saline) groundwater supplies, bequeathed by precipitation onto mountain catchments and recharging deep into the earth’s bedrock, have lain hidden from the perception or even the conception of any other hydrologist, geoscientist, or engineer before.

The idea appears to be somewhat plagiaristic in one perspective, and simply wrong in another.  The concept of high altitude mountain catchments recharging groundwater supplies is basically Hydrology 101.  Moreover, actual scientists such as M.K. Hubbert (1940), and J. Tóth (1963), had already mapped out these basic and fundamental notions of groundwater transport and evolution across any basin.  The megawatershed concept distorts those works because it wrongly appears to promise that abundant and high quality waters can be routinely extracted (by EarthWater Global of course) from very deep rock layers which can be far removed from any mountain catchment.  That’s an eye-brow raising claim.  Typically the deeper an aquifer, the more brine, and accordingly, the resulting extracted water cannot be used for drinking or agriculture.  Extracting (along with treating) such deep water is far more costly as well.  Perhaps Bisson’s numerous megawatershed wells actually only tapped less exotic, highly common, more shallow and less saline aquifers.  Perhaps he has never tapped into an aquifer that he has not considered to be part of some megawatershed.

To the best of my knowledge, Bisson is not a degreed hydrologist, so he can be extended some benefit of a doubt for being unaware of professional literature.   But Dr. Jay Lehr is a very famous degreed hydrologist.  Yet, when Dr. Lehr edited a Water Encyclopedia, he inexplicably included an entry solely authored by Bisson about the Megawatershed.  This appears to be the closest item to peer review ever achieved by the promotion, but Dr. Lehr did not appear to edit or disclose adequately.   For example, the encyclopedia entry did not cite Hubbert, Toth, or few others beyond its author Mr. Bisson, who did cite 37 of his own supply reports.   For what it is worth, there was a secondary citation.  Michael Campana wrote that “To their credit, (the megawatershed encyclopedia article does) cite the 1991 work of Tom Burbey and Dave Prudic (USGS Prof. Paper 1409-D) on Great Basin regional flow systems.”  Even that is very generous of Mike, since the Burbey and Prudic paper never mention any megawatersheds.  I suspect that the Burbey and Prudic authors would not be amused.

It would also have been essential for Dr. Lehr to disclose within the Megawatershed article of his Water Encyclopedia that he was EarthWater Global’s Chief Science Officer.  The 800+ page volume doesn’t appear to mention that.

If you are the only source to cite your notion, and you don’t disclose that you are the only source, that is not considered acceptable in peer review, securities and exchange (raising money from and reporting to investors), or elsewhere.  Perhaps that is why the firm EWG disappeared into the shadows, and once relevant sites have largely evaporated, such as this promotional link which Michael Campana originally pointed to.  I’ve also found that there is no longer access to Lehr’s encylopedia within the publisher’s (Wiley Interscience) search feature.

By the way, stable isotope analyses are routinely used to date waters and to help determine their sources, especially deep waters in comparison to waters from high mountain catchments.  Any megawatershed would likely have a very distinctive isotopic signature.  That doesn’t appear to have been discussed anywhere in the megawatershed “paradigm” (a term the authors favor) so far as I know.

Given the ethical challenges of the megawatershed, I wonder if the Heartland Institute can be considered an honest broker for any strain of climate knowledge.  This is simply because Dr. Lehr is the Heartland Institute’s Science Director (here and here). Rather that institute seems not unlike  its climate change promoting counterpart The Pacific Institute.  Comparing the two seems relevant, given this New York Times article about another climate con,  revolving around Pacific Institute’s Dr. Peter Gleick, a hydrologist in some technical ways much like Jay Lehr, Michael Campana, and I.  Oddly enough, Dr. Gleick’s “expose” was directed at Heartland.

Finally I don’t wish this specific concern to detract from the many useful articles in Dr. Lehr’s encyclopedia written by others.  Although the volumes are absurdly organized, there are still some helpful topic coverages.  Moreover, I’m sure he is a great and charismatic person in many ways, which is likely why he serves an important role there.   It is the Megawatershed Hoax which poses a credibility problem.


Hubbert, M.K.  1940.  The Theory of Ground-Water Motion.  The Journal of Geology.  Vol. 48, No. 8, Part 1  The University of Chicago Press Journals.

Lehr, J.  Editor in Chief, J. Keeley Senior Editor, Janet Lehr, Associate Editor, and Thomas Kingery III, Information Technology Director.  2005.  WATER ENCYCLOPEDIA   GROUND WATER.  Wiley Interscience  John Wiley and Sons.

Tóth, J.  1963.  A theoretical analysis of groundwater flow in small drainage basins

Journal of Geophysical Research

Disclaimer:  This is purely an opinion piece, based on recollections and cited references.


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