This year’s share would be $40,000 from a tight budget
Some think it’s superstition, some think it’s science—and for the last six years enough people have thought cloud seeding was a good enough bet to make it an annual practice in the Gunnison Valley.
But with a tight budget and recurring nightmares about the costs of last year’s plowing, the Board of County Commissioners wasn’t ready to commit funds right away to bring the seeding program back this year.
At their regular meeting Tuesday, October 28, the commissioners heard from Don Griffith of Utah-based North American Weather Consultants, Inc. who presented the plan purely as fact, with scientific data to prove that cloud seeding increases snowfall.
“It’s a fairly common thing here in the western United States, although there isn’t much of it going on west of the Mississippi for various reasons… But it is becoming a worldwide phenomenon,” said Griffith, pointing to China’s effort to seed clouds to keep rain away from the Olympic Games.
The idea is to put extremely small silver iodide particles into clouds with water that has remained a liquid below the freezing point. When the super-cooled water contacts the solid silver iodide particle, they bond, and the water freezes and falls to the ground as snow.
“In nature there are dust particles and bacteria that serve the same function as the silver iodide and there are certain types of clouds that have these kinds of water droplets in them that we are targeting,” said Griffith.
Part of the targeting plan will involve the use of 28 propane-powered cloud seeding generators scattered throughout the area that will systematically be started as weather fronts advance and winds shift. Last year they ran for nearly 1,500 hours between November and February, when the program was cancelled for the year due to an excessive snowpack that could cause avalanche and flood danger later on.
The generators that are turned on will send silver iodide particles, one-tenth of a micron in diameter, into a crosswind that will dispense them into clouds that meet certain elevation and temperature requirements.
“The target area is all of Gunnison County above 9,000 feet, with generators positioned throughout the area, from Blue Mesa Reservoir through Montrose and Hinsdale counties, to take advantage of the weather patterns and prevailing winds,” said Griffith.
North American Weather Consultants has already been granted the necessary permit from the Colorado Water Conservation Board to start the program. Now all they need is the support of the 10 sponsors they are courting to foot the $100,000 bill. The cost to the county would be around $40,000
But through a series of calculations involving snow pack, snow-water equivalent and stream flow, Griffith estimates that the valley saw an additional 119,403 acre feet of water as a result of the cloud seeding program.
“That’s pretty cheap water,” said Griffith, calculating that county residents paid between $.60 and $1 per acre-foot for the seed-generated water.
But when that water falls as snow, the county has to pay to remove the extra snow from the roads, and after a winter like last year’s, the deal doesn’t look so good.
“There is a potential contradiction,” said commission chairman Hap Channell. “We’re paying at both ends.”
The commissioners told Griffith they would consider contributing to the cloud seeding program at a future time, but in light of budgetary constraints said they could make no promises.
The Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District board of directors heard a similar proposal from Griffith the previous day. The board asked Griffith and a Gunnison County representative to make an attempt to secure other funding partners that might benefit, such as the Western Area Power Administration, which generates hydropower at Blue Mesa Dam. The UGRWCD board said they would consider Griffith’s proposal during an upcoming budget meeting in November.