Wyoming’s $13 million cloud seeding experiment may be about to pay off, or at least further knowledge in the science of rainmaking.
In a talk to the Wyoming Water Association last month, Wyoming Water Development Commission Director Harry LaBonde, Jr., said the results of over eight years of study would finally be released this December.
“All I will tell you about the results is that it appears that it is positive,” LaBonde told the group in Casper. “Of course what we want to know is, what can you anticipate with winter orographic seeding? Is that a 2 percent increase in precipitation? Is that a 10 percent increase in precipitation, or what can you expect?”
LaBonde said Wyoming’s experiment has drawn regional as well as international attention.
“Everybody wants an answer to the question that we have been asking, and so you are going to see a lot of interest. It will then hopefully be considered and utilized in other states across the West, as well as other operations across the world,” LaBonde said.
The cloud seeding program was conducted in the Medicine Bow/Sierra Madre Mountain Range in southern Wyoming. The study was based on eight snow generators placed in two closely related areas, and in double blind experiments data gatherers were not told which valley had been seeded for a given seeding event.
“The last data collection was last spring. It ended in April, representing about eight years of data collection,” LaBonde said. “We went through some drought years which limited seed-able events. But last year was a very good year. We had about 30 seeding events last year. We ended up with a total of about 160 events over the period of time. That was determined to be a suitable amount of events that … we can make a good scientific conclusion of does weather modification work? Is there an increase in precipitation when you are seeding these mountains with silver iodide, which is the product that we have been using.”
“So, with that data complete, the scientists have been poring over that — we certainly have issues with data quality and some of that, they’ve been looking at all of those issues — but what we hope to have, and what is on the schedule now, is their final report by December of this year,” LaBonde added. “It is our hope that in fact that schedule will be kept, and that document will become public information.”
Wyoming Range and Wind River seeding projects
In the meantime, Wyoming has two other cloud seeding experiments and operations.
“Another weather mod item in Wyoming is that we funded, last year, a Level II weather modification study in the Wyoming Range,” LaBonde said. “I think a lot of you know that Idaho Power runs a very active weather modification (program) out of the Star Valley, and some (of those) seeding effects do roll over into the Wyoming Range. But we wanted to take a more thorough look at what we might be able to do if we are going to set up an operational program in the Wyoming Range. Where might you site those generators? What kind of benefits would accrue to the Colorado River drainage on the East slope of those mountains, as well as the Snake River on the backside (and) the West side of those mountain ranges? So that study is underway. We expect to have the results of that next summer. That was the continuation of what was in essence a Level I study that was started in 2008, completed and then put on the shelf pending the outcome of our scientific programs.”
Moving from study to operations
LaBonde also announced that the WWDC was successful in its effort to get funding to continue cloud seeding in the Wind River Range, and changing (operations) from a scientific study to an operational program.
“The proposal that Water Development put forth to the legislature last year was that we wanted to keep those 10 generators in operation. We wanted to shift from scientific to an operational mode,” LaBonde explained. “However, we did not feel that all of the costs should be borne by the state of Wyoming. The Green River has not appropriated water. Those waters flow out-of-state, and ultimately benefit the lower basin states. So the proposal that was put forth is that Wyoming would pay for 25 percent of the cost of the operation of those generators, but we were required to go forward and seek funding partners from other states to pay for 75 percent of the program.”
“I’m happy to report today that, in fact, we have achieved the outside funding sources that were required as part of that bill, as a result we will have an operational seeding program run in the Wind Rivers this year,” LaBonde said.
“The funding partners that we’ve put together are: the Arizona Department of Water Resources; Central Arizona Water Conservation District: the Six Agency Committee, which is a group of agencies in California; Southern Nevada Water Authority; Utah Division of Water Resources — of course the Green River flows into Utah, and I think that was a little bit of a surprise that they came forward and wanted to help with the funding; the Bureau of Reclamation has stepped up and it is funding, in essence, the forecasting part of our programs. They’ve got a direct contract with NCAR (National Center for Atmospheric Research), and that outside funding source is $684,000. The respective Wyoming share is $28,000. There will be seeding in the Wind Rivers again, subject to appropriate storms coming across. We’ll start in November, and run into the April season, LaBonde said.”
LaBonde further noted that he viewed the Wind River Range project as a first step in ‘water augmentation’ in the Colorado River Basin.
“With the ongoing drought in the Colorado River Basin — we have dropping lake levels in Powell and Mead — we thought that maybe, even though we did not have the results of the scientific study, it was appropriate to look at continuing those generators, but moving from a scientific to an operational program.”
“Colorado has a weather modification program. So does Utah. But how do we bring the lower basin states into that program?” LaBonde continued. “I know there are some committees that have been formed, they are talking about that. But with 10 generators in place last year, it was too good an opportunity to go forward — at least for a one-year program — and we, again my hope is, it is going to morph into a more basin wide program.”
LaBonde concluded he was optimistic about cloud seeding expanding to other mountain ranges in the state.
“All in all, I think it’s good news,” LaBonde said. “Finally, there’s some pieces that are going to fall into place with our scientific study coming out. Then hopefully we will see some more operational programs going forward in the future.”