The Wyoming Legislature agreed to spend $316,000 on ground-based cloud seeding in the Wind River and Sierra Madre mountain ranges this year.
The money will support an ongoing effort to enhance winter snowpack in both mountain ranges, according to Senate File 80, which was signed into law March 16.
Cloud seeding uses silver iodide to enhance ice crystal production within clouds, according to a 2019 report from the Wyoming Water Development Commission.
It has taken place since 2014 in the Wind River Mountains – the site of the state’s “longest operational cloud seeding program,” the commission said.
The operation involves “10 remote-controlled, ground-based generators located on the western and southern flanks of the range,” the commission said, with seeding activities generally taking place between November and April.
Bang for the buck
A research study completed in 2014 showed cloud seeding results in a 5-15 percent increase in the “efficiency” of mountain snow, Wyoming Water Development Office planning section deputy director Barry Lawrence told the House Appropriations Committee last month.
“In other words, (there is) a little bit of increase in that snowfall – but then that has to translate to snowpack, then obviously to runoff,” he said.
Now that the state’s cloud seeding project has been operational for several years, Lawrence said his office will assess the results of the program to see “exactly what additional bang for the buck we’re getting.”
Wyoming Sen. Tim French, R-Powell, said cloud seeding “may allow (us) to get more water in our streams,” potentially benefitting “everybody in the entire state,” from “people that flyfish, kayak (and) float the rivers” to members of the agriculture industry, who produce “food and fiber for everybody out there.”
“It supports everybody in the state,” French said, referring to cloud seeding as well as the other water development projects included in Senate File 80. “I can’t think of anybody that wouldn’t benefit from this.”
The majority of the funding for the $885,000 cloud seeding project in the Wind River and Sierra Madre mountains comes from “other Colorado River Basin water users or other interested parties,” the legislation states.
In fact, a special condition listed in the bill notes that Wyoming will only contribute up to 37 percent of operating costs for the cloud seeding project, with other water users responsible for the remaining 63 percent.
“We’ve changed that (number) a few times – and fought and argued with them,” Wyoming Rep. John Eklund, R-Cheyenne, said. “(But) there’s a percentage that’s ours coming out of those waters to downstream users.”
Entities that have participated in the cloud seeding project in the Wind River Mountains in the past include several in Green River (Genesis Alkali, Solvay Minerals, TATA Chemicals, Ciner Wyoming and Rocky Mountain Power) as well as the Southern Nevada Water Authority, the Central Arizona Water Conservancy District and the Colorado River Board of California, according to the WWDC.