Public concern buries Big Sur cloud seeding plans, for now.

When It Rains: The vocal Big Sur community has poured out copious comments on the potential pitfalls of playing with cloud moisture.

F at Joe and the Monterey County Water Resource Agency have this much in common: They both want to make it rain. But MCWRA’s proposal to “seed” clouds of the Big Sur coast is less popular than the hip-hop single.

Bowing to public calls for a robust environmental review, the MCWRA canceled plans to disperse silver iodide by plane in an effort to increase rainfall this season. “We’re moving forward, but not going at as fast a pace,” says Robert Johnson, MCWRA’s chief of water resources planning. “We’ll see where we’re at for next winter.”

Cloud seeding involves the aerial release of silver iodide, which has a molecular structure similar to ice. The particles concentrate moisture and increase rainfall, which officials estimate could boost stores in the San Antonio and Lake Nacimiento reservoirs by more than 10 percent. At about $250,000, the project is considered cheap for the quantity of additional water it could produce in the drought-stricken Central Coast.


In mid-October, the MCWRA released an initial study and draft negative declaration on the “weather modification” project, which if approved, would allow cloud seeding to proceed without a full California Environmental Quality Act review. The move ticked off eco-watchdogs who want an environmental impact report and Big Sur locals who want more input.

In a seven-page comment to the agency, attorney Molly Erickson of The Open Monterey Project argues that cloud seeding has significant environmental impacts, and that the science is imprecise and experimental. “Potential harm includes floods, landslides, loss of life, road closures, infrastructure damage, erosion, toxicity to soils, and potential negative health impacts,” she writes.

Letters from Kate Novoa of the Big Sur Multi-Agency Advisory Council, Chief Martha Karstens of the Big Sur Volunteer Fire Brigade and Butch Kronlund of the Coast Property Owners Association ask the agency to put off seeding. “Any rainfall in addition to our normal could have even more potential to close the roads, cause flooding and/or mud slides,” Karstens cautions. “If the roads completely close, all of Big Sur is stranded.”

The MCWRA took the issue off its Dec. 17 agenda, giving staff time to complete further environmental review.

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