When a water company for many of California’s Inland Empire and components of Orange County began a pilot program to seed clouds within the area in November to see if it might enhance water provides, officers anticipated to face some questions and skepticism.

What officers didn’t anticipate was to be wrongly accused by conspiracy theorists and critics of inflicting one in every of California’s strongest storms in current historical past — or, worse but, making an attempt to poison the area.

Shortly after Southern California was hit by two major storms in February, dropping greater than a foot of rain in some areas and inflicting floods and landslides, conspiracy-peddling accounts on social media have tried responsible the power of the storms on the Santa Ana Watershed Undertaking Authority (SAWPA), a joint-power company tasked with overseeing and defending the Santa Ana River Basin that features San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange Counties.

In movies and social media posts, the accounts counsel — with out proof — that the company’s new cloud-seeding program brought on the 2 February storms. Shared 1000’s of instances, the posts have prompted folks to go away expletive-filled feedback on the company’s social media accounts. Others have reached out on to staff on the company, accusing them of damaging folks’s properties by inflicting the storm or making an attempt to poison communities with cloud-seeding chemical substances.

Regardless of the accusations, company officers mentioned there was no cloud seeding over the past two main storms and, extra vital, cloud seeding can’t create storms themselves. The company additionally pointed to a number of research which were printed over a number of a long time, displaying that the extent of silver iodide used in cloud seeding is not poisonous to people and 1,000 instances decrease than the Environmental Safety Company’s ingesting water requirements.

This system, mentioned Jeff Mosher, basic supervisor of the Santa Ana Watershed Undertaking Authority, is simply one of many ways in which officers need to increase water provides to the watershed’s dams and basins, which serve about 6 million residents throughout 4 counties.

In San Diego County, the place some have blamed the company for the storm’s harm, officers have needed to level out that cloud seeding hasn’t taken place within the county.

However that hasn’t stopped emails and calls to the company, or feedback left on its social media accounts.

“Due to dumb [expletive] such as you there’s mudslides and flooding in California,” one particular person informed Mosher on the social platform X.

“Another depopulation tasks within the works?” one other particular person requested on Instagram.

When the company launched this system in November, Mosher mentioned, he anticipated it to get some scrutiny. Though cloud seeding has been round for many years, many individuals are unfamiliar with the apply. However shortly after the storms, he mentioned, he and others on the company have seen a major enhance in emails and calls repeating a number of the conspiracy theories being unfold on social media.

In current days, for instance, he and others have fielded a number of emails and calls accusing SAWPA of inflicting the flooding within the wake of the storms. Different calls accuse the company of inflicting chemtrails — a conspiracy concept claiming that condensation trials left behind by airplanes are poisonous chemical substances being sprayed on folks for some unspecified nefarious motive.

Chemtrails have been related to the apply of cloud seeding and appear to have been incorrectly related to SAWPA’s program as properly, though the company doesn’t use planes and as a substitute seeds clouds from floor models.

Mosher has identified to some folks that the company didn’t cloud-seed throughout the Feb. 3-8 or Feb. 18-19 storms as a result of meteorologists have been predicting vital, even catastrophic, rain.

In accordance with the company, the final time it seeded clouds close to the watershed was Feb. 1. And officers level out that, in accordance with their very own estimates, cloud seeding can enhance precipitation by solely about 5% to 10%.

However the emails and feedback have continued, particularly after one of many on-line movies pushing the conspiracy concept inspired folks to achieve out on to Mosher and two different staff on the company.

The video, which has acquired 1000’s of likes on Instagram however was flagged Thursday for spreading false data, begins ominously with pictures of the harm brought on by the storms.

“If the disastrous flooding and document rainfall hitting Southern California proper now doesn’t appear pure to you, it’s in all probability as a result of it isn’t,” a girl says, narrating a video of flooding and water rescues.

“We now have data from the federal government itself that it’s performing climate modification, aka, cloud seeding,” a person follows up.

The video claims that the Santa Ana Watershed Undertaking Authority “boasts about blasting cancer-linked silver iodide blended with acetone.”

The issue with the claims is that cloud seeding has not been a clandestine apply because the video claims, however has been mentioned and studied within the open. These research, carried out over a long time, have additionally discovered that the extent of silver iodide utilized in seeding is so small it has had no noticeable impact on the setting, wildlife or the air breathed by folks close by.

The acetone, which is used when releasing silver iodide particles from the bottom, converts into water and carbon dioxide, a spokesperson for the company mentioned.

But the conspiracy has appeared to piggyback off of different unfounded theories, resembling chemtrails.

A number of the accounts pushing the conspiracy concept on TikTok and Instagram have tens of 1000’s of followers and have peddled different conspiracy theories, resembling claims that the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol was orchestrated by the FBI, that world governments are in actual fact run by a secret cabal often known as the New World Order, and that fashionable singer Taylor Swift is a psychological operation orchestrated by the Pentagon.

However like different misinformation that has contaminated social media platforms, the conspiracy has unfold into the true world. In San Diego, one resident blamed the county Board of Supervisors for the flooding and harm brought on by the current storms.

“You guys seeded us on function,” the resident mentioned throughout the board’s Feb. 6 assembly. “You destroyed these folks’s properties. They didn’t have flood insurance coverage, however you all knew that.”

The resident, recognized as “Kiera,” wore a black hat that learn, “COVID’s a rip-off.” Video of her feedback has been shared on social media, pushing the unfounded declare that water seeding was responsible for the storms.

To again up her declare, the resident cited the Santa Ana Watershed Undertaking Authority’s cloud-seeding program, though the company doesn’t function in San Diego County and this system is just not being carried out there.

The resident additionally alluded to chemtrails.

“You don’t assume that something is occurring within the skies that you just see?” she mentioned. “We’ve seen these for years.”

Timothy Tangherlini, a professor at UC Berkeley who has studied conspiracy theories, mentioned it’s frequent for them to be tied to different debunked theories to ensure that them to unfold.

“They hyperlink them collectively in these super-conspiracy theories which are totalizing, they usually provide you with an understanding of the world, an actual us-versus-them factor,” he mentioned. “That’s how conspiracy theories are held collectively.”

Older conspiracy theories typically assist new conspiracies take root, providing people who find themselves being uncovered to the knowledge some familiarity.

“Now subsequent time you see it once more, you see it from a few completely different sources, you assume there could also be one thing to that,” Tangherlini mentioned.

Conspiracy theories and misinformation have been significantly prevalent within the final couple of years, fueled by political polarization and mistrust of authorities, official, scientific and journalistic sources, he mentioned.

“Conspiracy theories are usually not actually sturdy and you can also make them crumble, however they’re extremely resilient,” he mentioned. “That’s why you see them come again to life.”

On this case, he mentioned, the storms that dumped greater than a foot of rain in some components of Southern California have been extra seemingly the results of local weather change. For a few of those that don’t imagine in local weather change, or are politically against motion to deal with it, a conspiracy concept making an attempt to put blame on the storm to an unlikely, unseen, unproven pressure could appear extra palatable than coming to phrases to the seen results of it.

“In some methods it’s a counter-argument,” Tangherlini mentioned. “Persons are saying this is because of local weather change, they usually’re like, ‘No, no, no, as a result of in my ideological background I’m not a fan of local weather change.’”

Mosher, who has watched a number of the conspiracy movies, mentioned he tries to see the misinformation as a chance, particularly if it steers some folks to the company’s web site to be taught extra about this system.

“We’re a public company and we search for feedback from the general public, questions from the general public, so we are able to reply to them,” he mentioned. “If folks see these posts and make contact with us by means of electronic mail for our climate modification program they usually have questions, we’ll reply.”

The company, in any case, is making an attempt to be clear about this system, he mentioned.

“Our aim isn’t to vary folks’s minds — their opinions are their opinions,” he mentioned. “We simply need to give them the knowledge to assist.”


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