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 “The old law required licenses and permits but it was repealed in the 1980’s. There was a general move toward deregulation in the government–mainly to reduce costs.”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.”