National and local media outlets have been buzzing the past week with reports about Santa Barbara County’s newfangled plans to commence cloud seeding in hopes of upping annual rainfall amounts in and around various county reservoirs. While it is certainly true that the rainfall enhancement efforts are slated to start (when weather-appropriate) anytime after December 1, it is also true that the practice is anything but new here on the South Coast. According to Matt Naftaly, the county’s Water Agency manager and de facto head of cloud seeding operations, such practices have been sanctioned by the county (with the county supervisors’ vote of support) most rain seasons for the past 30 years. “We have been doing it pretty extensively for at least three decades, and it is done pretty much the way it has always been,” explained Naftaly.
New versus old debates aside, the water-minded bioengineering, according to Naftaly, can help boost rainfall totals by as much as 20 percent, a number of impressive importance in an often water-hungry region like ours, and one that has been “empirically” proven after years of research by county-sponsored meteorologists. Accomplished by delivering payloads of smoke-form silver iodide (among several other inactive ingredients) into the teeth of storm clouds (slow-moving, cold rainmakers are the best, said Naftaly) via machines mounted on airplane wings or mountain-based generators, the seeding works to capitalize on Mother Nature’s rainmaking process by essentially increasing the ammo a planted cloud has to produce rain. Even better, the process is done with such accuracy that rain can be potentially enhanced for specific targets and minimized for others. For example, this year, with the Santa Ynez watershed already fairly flush with water, Naftaly says the near-empty Twitchell Reservoir will be target number one of the county’s seeding operations while areas impacted by fires in recent years will be generally avoided.
As for why the sudden uptick in media interest, Naftaly speculated that perhaps the county’s recent procedural issuing of a Notice of Intent to renew its five-year permit for the seeding may have spurred the coverage, or maybe, he continued, it is the concern that cloud seeding may play a nefarious role in chemtrails. Naftaly however, was quick to dismiss the latter, calling any such link between the two “completely false” if for no other reason than the fact that the county only cloud seeds during rain storms, a time when, due to cloud coverage, chemtrails are not even visible.