The latest unfounded conspiracy theory: Cloud seeding is to blame for California's storms and flooding

Salvador Hernandez, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Weather News

LOS ANGELES — When a water agency for most of California's Inland Empire and parts of Orange County started a pilot program to seed clouds in the region in November to see if it could increase water supplies, officials expected to face some questions and skepticism.

What officials didn't expect was to be wrongly accused by conspiracy theorists and critics of causing one of California's strongest storms in recent history — or, worse yet, trying to poison the region.

Shortly after Southern California was hit by two major storms in February, dropping more than a foot of rain in some areas and causing floods and landslides, conspiracy-peddling accounts on social media have tried to blame the strength of the storms on the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority (SAWPA), a joint-power agency tasked with overseeing and protecting the Santa Ana River Basin that includes San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange Counties.

In videos and social media posts, the accounts suggest — without evidence — that the agency's new cloud-seeding program caused the two February storms. Shared thousands of times, the posts have prompted people to leave expletive-filled comments on the agency's social media accounts. Others have reached out directly to employees at the agency, accusing them of damaging people's homes by causing the storm or trying to poison communities with cloud-seeding chemicals.

Despite the accusations, agency officials said there was no cloud seeding during the last two major storms and, more important, cloud seeding can't create storms themselves. The agency also pointed to multiple studies that have been published over several decades, showing that the level of silver iodide used in cloud seeding is not toxic to humans and 1,000 times lower than the Environmental Protection Agency's drinking water standards.

The program, said Jeff Mosher, general manager of the Santa Ana Watershed Project Authority, is just one of the ways that officials are looking to boost water supplies to the watershed's dams and basins, which serve about 6 million residents across four counties.


In San Diego County, where some have blamed the agency for the storm's damage, officials have had to point out that cloud seeding hasn't taken place in the county.

But that hasn't stopped emails and calls to the agency, or comments left on its social media accounts.

"Thanks to dumb [expletive] like you there's mudslides and flooding in California," one person told Mosher on the social platform X.

"Any other depopulation projects in the works?" another person asked on Instagram.


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