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Cloud seeding generator placed at Irwin

Generator to target CBMR

By Olivia Lueckemeyer

A remote cloud seeding generator has been installed on private property near Scarp Ridge in hopes of increasing snowpack at the Crested Butte Mountain Resort.

The first of its kind in Gunnison County, the remote generator is located upwind of the resort at a high elevation ideal for interaction with passing storm clouds.

“We envision that the generator would most benefit the headwaters of the East River, including the Coal Creek, Slate River and East River drainages,” said Frank Kugel, general manager of the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District (UGRWCD). “CBMR would be in the target zone for this seeder.”

Cloud seeding is a process by which particles of silver iodide (AgI) are expelled from a ground-based unit into the atmosphere to nucleate with water vapor and produce ice crystals that grow into snowflakes and fall into a targeted area.

In 2003, the UGRWCD implemented a cloud seeding program to help supplement the local water supply. Currently, the district is home to 20 manual generators; however, after learning of the developments in cloud seeding technology, Kugel felt it was time to implement the new-and-improved remote cloud seeding generators.

“[Remote cloud seeding generators] allow meteorologists to operate in real time,” Kugel explained. “The new seeders produce three times as much solution injected into the atmosphere at more ideal locations.”

Unlike manual generators, which are operated by residents who live nearby, remote generators are controlled by meteorologists at the North American Weather Consultants, Inc. headquarters in Sandy, Utah. Remote generators are also equipped with instrumentation to indicate when conditions are ripe for seeding.

“The generators have temperature, wind direction, humidity and barometric pressure sensors to help the meteorologists make a decision as to whether or not to turn on the generator,” Kugel explained.

In conjunction with the weather monitoring data produced by the generator, an icing rate meter installed at the ski area in 2014 will also help indicate when conditions are ideal for seeding.

Kugel approached Jake Jones, managing director of the Eleven Experience, in hopes of installing the generator on private property adjacent to the old Irwin Lodge. The site sits at an elevation of 10,700 feet, making the remote generator the highest and potentially best situated of its kind nationwide. Kugel believes the ability of the clouds in this location to penetrate the valley’s inversion will be the key to the generator’s success.

“The Eleven Experience was extremely helpful and generous in donating a site for use of this generator,” he said. “The layout of the mountains is such that it has a very clear window to the west for the normal storm track that comes across the West Elk mountains, and we feel that with the high elevation and topography of the site it will be a great benefit to the seeding operations in the Upper Gunnison Valley.”

According to Jones, Eleven is donating the site for the good of the local watershed.

“It is not intended in any way to benefit Eleven,” Jones explained. “Any potential snowfall generated from this installation would be way downwind. Our role here is in donating a location and making it accessible for year-round maintenance.”

A memorandum of understanding was drawn up between the Eleven Experience and the UGRWCD, and the generator was installed last week. According to Kugel, the machine was tested both on site with a Bluetooth controller as well as through a satellite modem. Both tests were successful.

The price tag on a remote cloud seeding generator is $73,000, the cost of which is shared between several parties. The lower basin states—consisting of California, Arizona and Nevada—contribute the majority of funding, while the rest is split among numerous shareholders, including Gunnison County.

“[The lower basin states] view it as inexpensive water compared to other sources,” Kugel explained. “They feel it is a great bang for the buck. Any snow that falls in the Colorado River Basin will go downstream and help with their storage in lakes Mead and Powell.”

According to cloud seeding experts, for the 2015-2016 season, the cloud seeding program had a 10 percent impact on area snowpack. While this specific remote generator has yet to produce any data, the UGRWCD is hopeful that it is a worthwhile investment.

“We have done cost projections and feel that even if we increase snowpack by 1 percent, the cost per acre-foot of water gained is a relative bargain,” Kugel said.

This year’s cloud seeding program will be operational from November 15 to April 15. On behalf of the Eleven Experience, Jones is optimistic “that the cloud seeding generator will benefit the watershed and community as a whole.”

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