"The idea is to use particles, in this case, silver iodide, and have them generate or enhance more precipitation in clouds so it falls as snow and ends up augmenting our water supplies," said Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority General Manager Jeff Mosher.
The Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority is comprised of five water districts in the Inland Empire and Orange County that are jointly involved in the project.
The four-year pilot program launched in November with an aim to increase precipitation by 5% to 15%. The silver iodide are released as particles into the atmosphere by 15 ground-based seeding generators located near the base of mountains surrounding the Santa Ana River watershed basin.
"Those are the head waters, if you will, for our water supply so it falls as snow, it eventually melts and comes down existing rivers, such as the Santa Ana River, which runs through our water shed and then that's where we capture it," said Mosher.
Mike Gardner, who serves on the board of Western Municipal Water District, said local water agencies would be able to rely less on imported water if the project produces results.
"Western gets a majority of the water that we serve from the state water project, so it is imported, it's more expensive and a little less reliable, and we are trying to get more and more local water. We're up to about 40% local water," said Gardner.
But what about large storms or atmospheric river event?
"We are very interested in the safety of cloud seeding both from a flooding point of view, so we have a suspension criteria in place so there are certain storms that are so large, we won't cloud seed," said Mosher.
He said once the pilot program is over, water agencies will use the data collected to make a decision.
"They want to know what the benefits are, make sure this is cost effective, and that they will make a decision whether we continue this program in the future," said Mosher.
A future that is looking thirsty for more water.
"A project like this, if we can squeeze a little more water out of the storm as it goes through, that will benefit particularly in drier years," said Gardner.