More cloud seeding and solar panels

Clouds gather as above a ridge in Mountain View on Jan. 7, 2016. Photo by Noah Berger, Reuters
Clouds gather above a ridge in Mountain View. Photo by Noah Berger, Reuters

A couple strategies sound like science fiction, but they are already being used and hold some promise.

Santa Barbara County has been practicing cloud seeding for decades — releasing tiny particles of silver iodide into the atmosphere during certain storms to coax water vapor into forming ice crystals and falling to earth. Researchers say it’s difficult to evaluate how well it works, partly because precipitation is so variable, but one analysis pointed to increased precipitation of 9% to 21% in two target areas. 

The Desert Research Institute has led this effort, seeding clouds in California’s San Joaquin Valley, Nevada, Wyoming, Montana, Colorado and Australia. In Wyoming, its 10-year experiment in mountain regions increased snowpack from winter storms by 5 to 15 percent.

One Central Valley town has turned to another unusual strategy: solar-powered “hydropanels” that draw water vapor from the air. In Allensworth, a historic Black town, hydropanels are expected to produce enough water to fill nearly 44,000 bottles over their lifetime — although not enough to replace the town’s contaminated groundwater.

These panels have been used around the world in places that lack clean water, including a Navajo reservation in Arizona, Australia, India and Kenya. Actor Robert Downey even included them when he built his eco-friendly house in Malibu.