Senator Block’s bill seeks $9 million to tap ‘rivers in the sky’


Scripps Institution of Oceanography researchers working to seed atmospheric rivers

During the Aug. 13 La Jolla Town Council (LJTC) meeting, 39th District State Senator and La Jolla resident Marty Block noted that Gov. Jerry Brown, while in San Diego just days before to address the drought, vowed to cut San Diego some slack in complying with the state’s stern water mandate.

“He got an earful on how the conservation we’ve done in San Diego in the last two decades (including the desalinization plant opening soon in Carlsbad) really makes the additional limits he’s placing on us unfair — and I truly think he heard that,” said Block, adding his general support for desalination.

Block’s own water-saving efforts include authoring Senate Bill 758, which would establish the Atmospheric Rivers: Research, Mitigation, and Climate Forecasting Program. The bill, currently before the Assembly Appropriations Committee, would study ways to tap into atmospheric rivers to help combat drought conditions and solve California’s water shortage.

“The folks from UCSD and Scripps Institute came to us and told me there are rivers in the atmosphere you can’t see, but that regularly come through and basically have as much water as the Mississippi River,” Block said, noting his bill seeks to provide $9 million for research to tap into these rivers in the sky when they soar past San Diego. “We’re not very good at predicting when they’re going to be here and we’re not very good at tapping the water source.”

Block said Scripps Researchers, including Martin Ralph, Ph.D., Director of the Center for Western Weather & Water Extremes at Scripps Institution of Oceanography, told him researchers are working to develop a method to “properly seed these rivers when they’re coming over California to dump water on California. If we have additional infrastructure we can collect that water, whether it’s large reservoirs or just individual folks having large tanks to use water themselves.”

Each year during the fall, federal law requires that water be drained from local reservoirs “even in a drought because there’s a fear of flooding,” Block said, noting that knowing when atmospheric rivers might arrive could help avoid this needless water waste.

“If we know atmospheric rivers aren’t coming that year we wouldn’t have to dump the water,” he said.

Block said the heavy el niño year forecasted might temporarily ease some of the region’s water woes, “but they’ll be back,” he said. “You can be sure of that.”