LA County to play rainmaker via cloud seeding

Monday, June 16, 2008

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(06-16) 09:42 PDT Los Angeles, CA (AP) --

The county is relaunching a controversial cloud seeding program aimed at increasing precipitation and raising water levels at local reservoirs.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved $800,000 for cloud seeding on June 4 the same day Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared a statewide drought. The project is scheduled to begin this winter in the San Gabriel Mountains north of Los Angeles.

"There are no assurances or guarantees that it will produce anything," said Richard Hansen, general manager of Three Valleys Municipal Water District. "But it doesn't hurt to try."

The practice is not uncommon even though the National Academy of Sciences released a report in 2003 that called cloud seeding unproven. Santa Barbara County water officials use it, as does a water agency in Monterey County. Electric utilities regularly do cloud seeding in the Sierra Nevada mountains.

Its supporters project a 15-percent increase in precipitation based on the seeding.

"We are helping Mother Nature along a bit," said Don Griffith, president of North American Weather Consultants, which has held cloud seeding contracts with Los Angeles County on and off since 1957.

The current project will use flares or propane burners set up at the base of the San Gabriels to spray silver iodide "into naturally occurring clouds that will create additional ice crystals," Griffith said.

The county first halted cloud seeding over the San Gabriels after a storm in February 1978 caused major flooding in Big Tujunga Canyon. The storm and the landslides that followed killed 11 people.

Dozens of lawsuits were filed against the county, alleging that cloud seeding the day before the storm increased the precipitation. The county prevailed in all the suits, but worried about future liability risks.

Nevertheless, the county resumed cloud seeding in 1991. The program was halted in 2002, when officials worried that wildfires in parts of the San Gabriel watershed left the area vulnerable to landslides.

The county now believes the program can be safely resumed.

Peter Gleick, a water expert for the Oakland-based nonprofit Pacific Institute, believes public money would be better spent on promoting water conservation measures rather than playing rainmaker.

"It's a bit of a sign of desperation," Gleick said.

___

Information from: Los Angeles Times, http://www.latimes.com/

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