As the Southwest dries out, water managers increasingly look to cloud seeding — The Durango Herald

Cloud seeding ground station. Photo credit H2O Radio via the Colorado Independent.

From The Durango Herald (Jonathan Romeo):

For decades, Western states have tried to offset long-term drying trends and dwindling water supplies of the region by sending up a specialized concoction into the atmosphere as winter storms approach, which proponents say boosts snowfall.

Across a sliver of Colorado from Telluride to Pagosa Springs, a total of 36 cloud-seeding generators are strategically placed, typically 5 miles apart, to cover a wide range of the high country of the San Juan Mountains for this purpose.

In 2020, the Southwestern Water Conservation District has set aside $27,000 for a new remote generator. While the station’s location is being decided, the aim is to place it at a higher elevation site where there is a gap in the network of generators.

“The majority of our water supply comes from snowpack, so if we can provide any additional amount, it has a huge benefit to our basin,” said Frank Kugel, executive director of SWCD, which represents nine counties in Southwest Colorado.

Waters managers who rely on the Colorado River are dealing with an array of issues as more people move into the region and demands increase on a waterway that is seeing less water every year because of issues directly related to climate change.

In adapting to this new reality, cloud seeding, they say, is just one part of the attempted solution…

Does it work?

How much additional snow falls as a result of cloud seeding has been a hot topic among water managers for years, and most agree, more detailed research needs to happen to pin down just how much additional snow is extracted from the practice.

Yet, most accept an estimated range between 2% to 15% more snow per storm.

Statewide, about $1.2 million is spent annually toward cloud seeding, with money coming from local and state water districts, as well as lower basin states that rely on the Colorado River, said Andrew Rickert, program manager for the Colorado Water Conservation Board.

Supporters of the project have said that for every $1 in cost, about $3 worth of water is produced…

The future

Better technology, more generators in high-elevation spots and more stations in general are the top priority with cloud seeding going further.

Experiments have been conducted in recent years that show releasing silver iodide by plane gets more out of storms, but the practice is expensive, and cost-prohibitive, Kugel said.

Southwestern Water Conservation District, along with its partners, will take the coming weeks to find the best spot for the new remote generator in the region. The district spends about $117,000 on the entire cloud-seeding effort in the region.

Cloud-seeding graphic via Science Matters

Leave a Reply