Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Water Initiative

Some of my friends are circulating a local initiative petition to ban cloud seeding in the city of Mount Shasta, as well as banning commercial water bottling.  After reading all 13 pages of the proposed ordinance (here), I believe that it is, unfortunately, very poorly conceived. 

Inalienable Right to Water?

Section 2.1.1, by declaring that residents have an inalienable right to use and consume water, would appear to prevent the city from shutting off anyone's water for non-payment.  Water is, unfortunately, a commodity.  In much of the world, people can't get as much of it as they would like.  The city has a property right to its water supply, thanks to the foresight of the city fathers.  Residents have a right to use this water that is conditional on paying their hookup fees and monthly bills.   Do the many millions of Southern Californians have an inalienable right to water?  If so, that implies that they have an inalienable right to take water from from Northern California, since they don't have enough of their own. 

Cloud Seeding
Section, prohibiting cloud seeding or weather modification in Mount Shasta, addresses a nonexistent problem.  Nobody would pay to do cloud seeding here, because nobody has a vested interest in increasing rainfall within the city.  We have no agriculture.  There is a very small hydro operation at Lake Siskiyou, which probably couldn't afford a cloud seeding operation.  And most of the water in the Lake comes from the Sacramento inlet, well to the west of town on national forest property.  The existing bottling plant knows well that rumors of silver iodide use would be very bad for their business, so they wouldn't want cloud seeding even if they needed to increase their flow.  
And the ordinance would not do anything about the cloud seeding that is proposed or ongoing in the McCloud and Pit River watersheds by PG&E. 

Biological Impacts of Cloud Seeding

One study on  the health impacts of cloud seeding indicates that the average person gets more exposure to silver from tooth fillings than from silver iodide, and more iodine from the iodized salt that most of us consume.  (wikipedia)   A publication here indicates that silver concentrations in Sierra Nevada areas where there has been a lot of cloud seeding are about 100 parts per trillion, as opposed to a US Public Health Service maximum of 50 parts per billion. This, admittedly is from an overview published by the industry    This  study analyzed toxic impacts of another silver compound at concentrations of 10 to 30,000 parts per billion, in contrast to the parts per trillion residues found as a result of cloud seeding.  (sorry, abstract only)   The most thorough study I can find on aluminum toxicity is here, from a United Nations group.  Unfortunately, it does study this specific compound.  The toxic impacts are generally from ionic silver, and I am not enough of a chemistry student to predict the breakdown of silver iodide.  If I have any readers (dream on) who are chemistry nerds, please comment.  BC Guidlines  Here is another good reference.  And another -- Nat Biological Service   The main reference cited by Wikipedia, showing no accumulation of silver above background levels resulting from cloud seeding, is a 256 page book by Donald A. Klein, which is not on the net and probably not available locally.  Silver iodide has a relatively low mammalian toxicity.  The toxicity for microorganisms and marine life is much higher, but I can't find any real world evidence that cloud seeding has ever increased silver iodide concentrations to anywhere near the toxic threshhold. 

Water Bottling (Export) Prohibition

Section and prohibit commercial water bottling operations in the city.  This is one provision that I could support.  The city water supply is likely to get smaller in future years, because climate warming in California is generally correllated with drought.  The existing Coca-cola (formerly Dannon) water bottling plant is outside the city limits.  At one time, the city was considering selling water to this plant, but they couldn't agree on a price. 


Various parts of section 2.2 attempt to override state and federal law regarding the rights of incorporated businesses.  Section specifically asserts that state laws to the contrary are null in Mount Shasta.  I don't think we pay our police force enough to get them to be a militia protecting our independence from the state.  This is sort of a left wing sagebrush rebellion.  I would be worried if the people promoting this initiative were gun nuts, but fortunately, most of them are peace/love types.   Actually, I couldn't sign the petition if I wanted to, because I have a two bit volunteer job with the city which requires me to swear to defend the constitution of the state of California. 

City Required to Sue

Section requires the city to sue if city residents are found to have contaminants such as silver iodide in their bodies.  This would open up a huge can of worms.  When I first heard about the initiative, I thought it referred to the city water supply, which can easily be tested.  But silver iodide in someone's body could come from anywhere.  I personally know someone local who has taken silver products internally as an alternative therapy for a medical problem.  And the references indicate that silver exposure is much more likely to come from industrial sources than from cloud seeding. 

No Growth . . . Period?

Section 2.4, on the rights of natural communities and ecosystems, provides fertile grounds for anyone to sue anyone who proposes to build anything in Mount Shasta.  Existing CEQA law already requires government permitting agencies to carefully consider any adverse effects to the environment, and to carefully balance human needs against potential adverse impacts.  But this ordinance would automatically prohibit any development which had any adverse impact on wetlands, streams, aquifers and other natural communities and ecosystems.  If enforcable and enforced, it would surely shut down Sousa's quarrying operation at the north end of town.  This business is admittedly an irreversible alteration of the landscape, and a huge eyesore where it can be seen.  But it has been grandfathered in for many years, and the building products it and similar quarries produce are essential to our civilization.

Initiatives are required to be limited to a single topic.  I count five different subjects in this one.  However, the courts have generally been pretty liberal in interpreting this rule. 

So, for my two cents worth, don't sign the petition.  It could have serious unintended consequences in several respects.  We have a lot of real problems to address without this diversion

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