The entity that operates a long-running cloud-seeding program aimed at boosting snowfall on Grand Mesa is seeking to have its state permit for the program renewed for 10 years.
The effort by the Water Enhancement Authority is one of a couple of permit renewal applications now before the Colorado Water Conservation Board.
Durango-based Western Weather Consultants is seeking a renewal of a program for Vail Corp.’s ski areas at Vail and Beaver Creek, and another permit renewal is being pursued in southwest Colorado.
Water Enhancement Authority proposes to continue conducting the Grand Mesa operation on behalf of entities including the city of Grand Junction, Grand Mesa Water Conservancy District, Grand Mesa Water Users Association, Ute Water Conservancy District, Powderhorn Ski Co. and Collbran Water Conservancy District.
Altogether, 16 organizations are involved, said Mark Ritterbush, the authority’s secretary and treasurer, during a recent online public hearing on the permit renewal conducted by the conservation board. Ritterbush also is water services manager for the city of Grand Junction.
The Grand Mesa program dates back decades, and irrigation companies originally pooled money to create it. It now targets some 320 square miles roughly above 8,000 feet in elevation.
Any of 13 manually operated seeders and five remotely operated ones can be used to send silver iodide particles skyward into storm clouds when factors such as wind direction and temperature are right, in an attempt to enhance snowfall as supercooled water attaches to the particles.
The Grand Mesa program estimates it has boosted snowfall by an average of 4% since 1990, and by 7% to 8% percent each of the last three years as it has improved its operations through measures such as more targeted seeding and more use of remote seeders. The remote devices can be located at higher elevations closer to clouds, making it easier to get silver iodide into those clouds.
The program estimates the amount of snowfall enhancement by comparing snowfall averages at Grand Mesa and non-seeded locations in the region to historic averages before Grand Mesa seeding began.
Ritterbush estimates that an 8% increase in snowpack on the Grand Mesa translates to about 2,000 additional acre-feet of water. An acre-foot is about 326,000 gallons.
Based on the program budget, it’s costing about $7 an acre-foot for that additional water, which Ritterbush said doesn’t just help municipal water supplier and irrigators, but also helps the environment by boosting stream flows, and supports recreation activities such as skiing and rafting…
Altogether, there are eight cloud-seeding programs in Colorado. Funding comes from a variety of sources, including Front Range municipal water entities and from within states in the Colorado River’s Lower Basin.
Andrew Rickert with the Colorado Water Conservation Board said at the Grand Mesa program hearing that new funding is allowing for three new remote seeders to be installed in Colorado, including one on Grand Mesa if the permit there is renewed. Statewide, some 112 manual seeders and 13 remote stations are in use now.