March 09, 2023

Sorcery, Magic, and a Bit Of Alchemy? Creating Water

Posted on March 9, 2023 by Kevin R. Murray

The medieval forerunner of chemistry is said to have been alchemy and was primarily focused on transforming base metals and other matter into gold (or a universal liquid to make one immortal). If you look at a definition of the term, you will also see words like magic, sorcery, enchantment, and witchcraft. A few decades ago, the concept of atmospheric water management, geo-engineering, or weather modification might well have been characterized as a form of sheer alchemy, magic, or sorcery. Now however, with climate variations becoming the most predictable weather forecast, many are looking for solutions to control the weather even if by magic. Drought conditions continue to exist in much of the United States, which have heightened an interest in the science of weather modification as a tool for water management and drought resolution.

Weather modification can be planned or inadvertent. Cloud seeding (atmospheric water management) an example of planned modification, airborne sediment (contaminated or otherwise) an example of inadvertent. Atmospheric water management has increased in interest. as have the legal issues associated the quest to produce water. For example, who has a right to claim the wet gold resulting from atmospheric water management? Who is responsible for any collateral consequences? Is this an element of state water law or something new and different?

One of the earliest attempts to regulate this area was The Weather Modification Policy Act (the “Act”), which was enacted in 1976 to address the interstate nature and broad environmental effects of weather modification technology. 94 P.L. 490, 90 Stat. 2359. Specifically, the Act stated its purpose “to develop a comprehensive and coordinated national weather modification policy and a national program of weather modification research and development.” The primary sections of the Act are dedicated to creating additional study of the impacts of weather modification. Specifically, the Secretary of Commerce (the “Secretary”) is required to “conduct a comprehensive investigation and study of the state of scientific knowledge concerning weather modification, the present state of development of weather modification technology, the problems impeding effective implementation of weather modification technology, and other related matters.” While the Act noted the importance of regulation on weather modification, no comprehensive policy was ever developed by the Secretary.

Federal funding was prevalent for weather modification research between 1960 and 1985 but has been in a general decline since. Despite the decline in funding and general activity, the USBR and NOAA have remained involved in weather modification research and pursued cloud-seeding experiments. In 2002 Congress provided $2 million for the Weather Damage Modification Program (“WDMP”), which was to be administered by the USBR in collaboration with seven states. The WDMP included three projects-in Colorado, Utah, and Nevada . . . to investigate wintertime cloud seeding; and two projects using summertime cloud seeding-one in North Dakota and one overlapping Texas, New Mexico, and Oklahoma. At last look, there were twenty-three states regulating weather modification, and six states allowing weather modification as an emergency management measure. Nevertheless, the federal government has not funded weather modification research and operations since the WDMP program, but states have increasingly become involved in weather modification regulation. While it appears there may have been a few recent legislative attempts, the last two bills on weather modification policy with any traction failed in Congress, one in 2004 and another 2009; both bills unsuccessfully sought to create federal and state cooperation on weather modification rules.

Attention on weather modification seems ripe for greater reflection. Many portions of the country will be resistant to any type of federal policy in this area, especially since water law is so state specific. That said, regional or national support may also have a role providing the infrastructure/resources for state, regional and federal cooperation. Such support would appear especially prudent in terms of science and geo-engineered climate effects. The issue requires focus before consequential spells are cast.