Weather modification has become a part of Orange County’s reality; the question is, is it fixing the problem or causing it

Controlling the weather- It seems like a plot for a cheesy science fiction movie. Internet Movie Database has a page dedicated to listing movies having to do with weather manipulation. But what if someone were to tell you that weather modification is part of our reality?

Last winter there was a plethora of videos circulating social media accusing heavy rain we’ve seen this year as not being natural. However, most people dismissed these as conspiracy theories. In reality, the Santa Ana Watershed has a website proudly proclaiming that weather modification is being used locally.

“SAWAPA has implemented a four-year pilot program to study cloud seeding in our watershed,” said Jeff Moshel, general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority.

Cloud seeding is a process where, as SAWAPA’s website puts it, “silver iodide (is released) into clouds, which increase the chances of droplet condensation.” SAWAPA spans the majority of Orange County, San Bernardino County, and Riverside County.

“Cloud seeding was last done on April 13-15,” Mosher said. Mosher explained that cloud seeding in the winter months enhances the natural rainy season. 

One of the most common concerns people have about the practice is that it introduces chemicals into the atmosphere. 

Water districts utilizing cloud seeding dispute these claims, saying that the amount of silver iodine present is so low it is completely safe. 

Erin Miller, an environmental studies professor at Saddleback speaks about this. She explained that bioaccumulation is a concern even when low amounts of chemicals are introduced to our atmosphere. 

An example of bioaccumulation is, say, a low amount of toxic substance released in a lake. Aquatic plants absorb, for example, two milligrams of the substance. Over its lifetime, a fish consumes ten of these plants, meaning that the fish has consumed twenty milligrams of the toxic substance. Then a bird eats three of these fish and ends up with 60 milligrams of the substance in its body. 

Small amounts can easily build up to toxic levels this way.

Another under-recognized safety concern is the combination of silver iodine with other chemicals, like pesticides. Miller points out that what happens when two or more chemicals combine in the body is underexplored. 

As time goes on, cancer rates are going up. Could it be the mixture of safe-by-themself chemicals that are combined in our bodies? 

The New York Health Organization points out that “On a daily basis, Americans are exposed to many of the 80,000 chemicals currently used in the U.S.” It seems highly likely that a few of these chemicals respond negatively when mixed together after consumption. When it comes to cloud seeding experts, they have to ask themselves, “do we want to add more?”

“Cloud seeding is an option, it does work, we’ve seen that it works,” said Morgan Barrows, department chair of environmental studies. She adds that “it can cause it to rain in an area that is dryer but keep in mind that that rain would have fallen somewhere else.” 

Truthfully cloud seeding is just water redistribution. “It’s not a good long-term solution,”  Barrows said. “It’s definitely not the answer and I would argue that it’s not even part of an answer.”

On the other hand, cloud seeding does offer benefits. Despite all the negatives, it does provide a way to bring more rain to drought-prone areas. California has a long history of battling with droughts. The last one lasted eight years. 

Especially when it comes to environmental issues, solutions are far from being black and white. Barrows said it best; “every decision that you make has consequences, good consequences, bad consequences. You have to weigh your pros and cons and [decide] what… you’re willing to live with.”