Colorado River Basin states look to regional cloud-seeding
TUCSON, Ariz. ” Needing more water to keep up with growth, Arizona and the six other Colorado River Basin states are looking to the sky.
In three years, officials hope to launch the first phase of a regional cloud-seeding program to create more snowfall in the Upper Rockies to feed the Colorado River and its tributaries.
The seven states plan to hire a consultant this spring to evaluate the practice and make recommendations for whether, where and how to pursue it.
Seeding ” which injects chemicals such as silver iodide into clouds to allow water droplets or ice crystals to form more easily ” is just one of many water-enhancing technologies that the consultant will review. Others include desalinization, treating water from coal-bed methane in Wyoming and Utah, removing water-sucking salt cedar trees from rivers and cleaning up brackish groundwater near Yuma.
But seeding is considered a prime candidate because several Western states do it on a smaller scale. It’s not very expensive, costing from $1 to $20 per acre-foot of water.
“We’re going to seed the clouds,” said Herb Guenther, director of the Arizona Department of Water Resources. “To what degree and how we do it and how we fund it is yet to be determined.”
Today, cloud-seeding is a popular but still-controversial practice. Utah, Wyoming, Colorado and Nevada have major programs, but 60 years since seeding experiments began, many experts are divided about its effectiveness.
In 2003, a National Academy of Sciences panel said there hasn’t been much research to prove cloud-seeding successes that have been reported didn’t occur by chance.
“One of the frustrations we have in the science field is that we don’t know the processes well enough on how the precipitation is made, on cloud physics, to say that if you do this, this will happen,” said Paul Try, who worked on the academy report and runs a science-technology consulting firm in the Washington, D.C., area.
The Weather Modification Association, a national group that promotes research and development of cloud-seeding, has fired back with a report that says that there have been statistically proven seeding success stories. The academy’s standards are unrealistically strict, the group said.
Utah experiments found a 10 percent snowfall increase from seeded compared with nonseeded clouds. In Nevada, the Desert Research Institute has traced the presence of chemicals from cloud-seeding in snowpack.
Kelly Redmond, a federal climatologist in Nevada, said seeding seems to work when done properly in the right situations, and because of its low cost it need not be wildly successful to pay for itself. But he’s skeptical that seeding could boost regional snowpack by more than a few percent.
“It would have to be practiced on a pretty large scale,” he said. “Can you produce it in a lot of places at once?”
If seeding worked, it could nourish an over-allocated Colorado River.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation estimated this month that seeding could produce up to 67 percent of the water each year that the Central Arizona Project annually delivers to Arizona, including Tucson, where it is used for drinking water.
Arizona and the other six states aren’t sure how big a program they want, said a spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, which is overseeing hiring the consultant. Answering that question will be the consultant’s job.
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