Seeding Clouds for Hydropower

PG&E cloud seeders located near Burney Falls, CA.  Photo: PG&E

PG&E cloud seeders located near Burney Falls, CA. Photo: PG&E

Christina Aanestad’s radio feature for Climate Watch airs Monday morning on The California Report.

Wringing Hydropower Out of the Clouds

By Christina Aanestad

When cloud seeding began in the 1950’s there were no laws governing weather modification. According to Maurice Roos, Chief Hydrologist with the state Department of Water Resources (DWR), it wasn’t until the late 1970’s when a storm in a seeded area near Los Angeles flooded, that regulations governing weather modification were included in the state’s water code. In the West, “Most of the states have legislation that governs the conduct of weather modification activity,” says Brant Foote, director of the Research Applications Lab at the National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) in Boulder, Colorado.

Government oversight has changed over the years. Today in California, state regulations have slackened. “As for the State’s role, it is mainly informational. There are no permits or licenses,” said Roos. According to Roos, all cloud-seeding projects required permits until the law was reformed. “The old law required licenses and permits but it was repealed in the 1980’s. There was a general move toward deregulation in the government–mainly to reduce costs.” Today, according to Roos, Sponsors of cloud-seeding projects must notify DWR and county governments of the project, “This can be a letter or, for DWR, an e-mail notice,” he said. “They also have to publish a Notice of Intention in the county or counties affected by their proposed operations.”

Most of what this reporter learned was from Roos’ institutional memory, and going directly to sponsors of cloud-seeding operations–about 15 intermittent projects around the state. Data on cloud seeding at the state level is scattered, according to Roos. “We used to have an annual report that was published. Last time I tried to find it, it was in an archived box and nobody knew where it was,” said Roos, who added that budget cuts and deregulation mostly gutted the oversight program.

Despite lax oversight, the State of California wants to use weather modification as part of its 2009 Water Plan, which states:

“Cloud seeding has advantages over many other strategies for providing water. A project can be developed and implemented relatively quickly…it could offset some of the loss in snow pack expected from global warming.”

According to the plan, some regulation remains: weather modification sponsors need to comply with the California Environmental Quality Act [CEQA]. But not all seeding has to comply with environmental regulations. PG&E contends that an environmental impact report is not required for its Pit-McCloud River project because it is privately funded, with equipment on private lands,” said Roos.

That has locals groups near Mount Shasta concerned with PG&E’s proposed project in the Pit and McCloud River watersheds. “It’s a clear unequal treatment between public agencies and private entities,” said Angelina Cook with the Climate Council and the Mount Shasta Community Rights Project. “Private corporations require more government oversight and regulation to ensure accountability for the their practices.” But compiling all cloud-seeding data in California into one reference source today would be “a labor of love,” says Roos. “There’s no funds for it,” he said.

Cook says she is working on a cloud-seeding ban in Mount Shasta City, which may include a chemical trespass for silver iodide, the common chemical used in cloud seeding. “If silver iodide is found in the area, PG&E would be liable,” said Cook.
But Roos, who says cloud seeding is mostly benign, asks where one would draw the line. “There’s all kinds of influences on the air like people driving their cars, diesel trucks running around,” said Roos. Just as California has increased its regulations on air emissions in the state, some like Cook would like to see tougher regulations for weather modification as well.

Meanwhile, the state’s 2009 water plan also urges more research and development into cloud-seeding. Research could include cloud seeding’s impact on global climate change, and it’s effectiveness. The plan also identifies areas that could provide optimal results from cloud seeding, mostly in Northern California, along the Sacramento, Trinity and Russian Rivers.

Cloud Seeding Projects in California

View Cloud Seeding Projects in California in a larger map

To find references to cloud-seeding in the state’s water plan, look under Volume 3, then for “Precipitation Enhancement.”

  • http://californiaskywatch.com Ava Peterson

    September 9, 2009

    TO: KQED News

    This letter is in response to this article by KQED News and weather modification. It should be noted that anyone can modify your weather using any chemicals or methods without your consent, government oversight at any level, to benefit any private interest. Weather modification programs can negatively impact agriculture and watershed in your area as well.

    Increasing interest in weather modification research and development leads us to a host of issues — including liability, foreign policy, and national security concerns — that arose in the past and should be adequately considered before the U.S. Government, private corporations, or State Governments undertake these programs. Agriculture micro climate disruptions and watersheds impacts could lead to drought conditions in some areas which are deprived of adequate rainfall or snow.

    It is time to regain public and government oversight and control of these programs. And it is time to defeat U.S. Senate Bill 601, Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison’s Bill, that would allow anyone to modify or mitigate your weather without your consent, prior notification or any government oversight.

    The Obama Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) should coordinate – with the Department of Justice on legal issues, with the Department of State on foreign policy implications, with the Departments of Defense and State on national security implications, and with pertinent research agencies to consider the reasons the U.S. Government previously halted its work in weather modification. At the conclusion of this review, the Administration would report back to the public on the results of these discussions so the public is fully apprised of all possible issues associated with authorizing a new Federal program on this topic. State government agencies should also look into these same implications.

    We believe concerns in the following areas must be better understood:

    1) Local Political & Legal Ramifications

    • Because small scale weather modification (e.g., cloud seeding) may promote rain in one area to the detriment of another, weather modification could result in inter-state (including Indian Tribes) litigation or private citizen litigation against the modification programs.

    • The legal and liability issues pertaining to weather modification, and the potential adverse consequences on life, property, and water resource availability resulting from weather modification activities, must be considered fully before the U.S. Government could take responsibility for this new research program.

    2) International and Foreign Policy Implications

    • Small and large scale (e.g., hurricane) weather modification efforts could benefit the United States to the detriment of other countries (such as Canada or Mexico).

    • Given global weather patterns, whether one country “owns” its weather so as to assert intra-border control with extra-border consequences, must be considered under present international conventions.

    • The manner in which such a program could benefit or harm the present U.S. positions on foreign policy matters, such as global warming/climate change, should also be considered.

    3) National Security Implications

    • The U.S. Government’s previous weather modification programs were part of our Cold War history; restarting them today could promote (possibly hostile) foreign responses.

    • In 1978, the United States became a party to an international treaty banning the use of weather modification for hostile purposes. While modification for peaceful purposes is allowed, whether well-intentioned programs could be considered “hostile” and perceived to violate this ban should be considered.

    4) Research Issues

    • The Department of Commerce’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) primary atmospheric and meteorological research focus is on improving weather forecasting, which has proven to save lives and property. NOAA abandoned weather modification activities some time ago in favor of other research areas that more directly relate to the agency’s core mission and responsibilities.

    • Redirecting funding to focus on weather modification can shift funds away from other important programs such as research to improve weather forecasting capabilities for severe weather events and research to better understand climate variability and change.

    Today weather modification by universities, the military, states, counties, cities, private corporations, the federal government and others is changing our climate and moving water from one place where it is needed to another without public consent. It is now time to take action and restore California laws to protect the public interest and to require Environmental Impact Studies and public notification prior to any of these plans being implemented.

    The study in California and natinallly would address the history and current status of weather modification research. No one should be moving forward in California or elsewhere until studies have been conducted and laws protecting our watersheds, rivers, streams, and agriculture are in place. Controls should be placed on types of chemicals used, methods, and scope of weather modification – while notifying the public of these issues.

    In 2008, KTVU Channel 2 – Oakland San Francisco conducted their own investigation into this issue which was broadcast and is still available for public review. In addition, the residents of Siskiyou County stopped a proposed weather modification program due to the fact it would have changed their weather and taken rain and snow away from their watershed to other areas-which could have robbed them of their water supplies and the rainfall needed for their crops, rivers, and water supplies.

    It is time to act today and stop these unregulated weather modification and mitigation (U.S. Senate Bill 601), bills and programs before we all suffer the consequences.

    Sincerely,

    Ava Peterson
    Post Office Box 499
    Redwood Valley, CA 95470
    (707) 485-7520
    E-Mail: info@californiaskywatch.com

  • Craig Miller

    Thanks for the very thorough review and heads-up on SB 601, which most people probably haven’t heard of.
    While others may differ with your particular point of view, it’s good to get the discussion going. It’s already starting as various forms of “geo-engineering” are promoted to confront the changing climate. We hope to do more reporting on this concept in the near future.

  • http://www.mmmab.net Pebbles Trippet

    Christina Aanastad delivered state-of-the-art coverage in her daily KZYX Community News Reports during her all-too-brief tenure there. She developed a reputation in Mendocino County for investigative reporting in areas where others fear to tread, from fire to water to cannabis cultivation.

    I hope California Report has a regular place for Aanastad’s bold style; dare I say bloodhounds could learn from her. Put her on an indepth history of cloudseeding, which curiously we know so little about, perhaps due to do-your-own-thing deregulation.

    What are the repercussions of creating rainwater through silver iodide application in the atmosphere, as well as aluminum waste shards and other chemicals reportedly also used in cloud seeding?

    Is there oversight? Environmental protections? Studies? Test results? Why does the public know so little about cloudseeding, since we all share the air?

    Pebbles Trippet