Eagle County agencies help boost cloud-seeding funds after Vail pulls out
Western Slope and Front Range interests collaborate on program
EAGLE — We need more “juicy” clouds. If we get them, the Colorado River Water Conservation District is ready to try to squeeze more snow from those clouds with some help from local water districts.
The Eagle River Water & Sanitation District and the Upper Eagle Regional Water Authority have contributed up to $30,000 to the river district’s cloud-seeding operations this season.
In all, the district and its partners — from the Western Slope and Front Range — will put about $300,000 into cloud seeding this season. That’s about $100,000 more than the district had to spend going into the winter.
The seeding budget used to be bigger. Before this season, Vail Resorts had long funded cloud seeding operations, to the tune of about $300,000 per year.
The resort company announced this season that it was cutting its seeding operations due to belt-tightening in response to the pandemic.
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Dave Kanzer, the deputy chief engineer for the river district, recently updated the district’s board about the beefed-up efforts, and the board agreed to provide funds for more seeding this season.
That state-permitted season runs from November through April, and the intent is simple: Put more snow on the mountains, which then turns into water in the Colorado River Basin.
Kanzer said the river district and its partners in the Colorado River Basin are part of several efforts that stretch across the length of the Rocky Mountains through Colorado.
The right clouds
Seeding starts with the right clouds — juicy, wet clouds — along with the right temperatures and wind. The intent is to wring out as much snowfall as possible from those clouds.
“Conditions have not been extremely favorable” so far this season, Kanzer said, adding that there’s hope for better conditions for the remainder of winter.
Cloud seeding depends on a few techniques to crank up the propane-fueled generators that shoot silver iodide crystals into the sky. The idea is that water droplets in the clouds will grab those crystals and the droplets will become heavy enough to precipitate out as snow.
Kanzer noted that cloud seeding is used around the world to enhance rainfall and suppress hail.
Some systems are automated, activated through satellite or cellphone signals, while others are fired up by hand. That often requires someone physically starting the generator in the wee hours of the night.
“We have an army of folks” who work for the district’s cloud-seeding vendor in the Colorado River Basin, Kanzer said.
Significant boost possible
Kanzer noted that Vail Associates, the corporate precursor of Vail Resorts, was an early adopter of cloud seeding to boost snowfall, starting in the 1970s. But for some time, it was unclear how well the technology worked.
That question was answered by a study from Idaho, released in early 2020, that determined seeding could boost snowfall by 5% to 15% per storm.
Across the basin, that boost can be significant. According to data from the river district, seeding, combined with the right weather conditions, could add between 40,000 and 80,000 acre-feet per season to the snowpack. To put that number in perspective, the capacity of Dillon Reservoir is just more than 257,000 acre-feet.
While this year’s seeding effort got a boost from a wide variety of interests, it’s hoped the stopgap is only temporary.
“I hope we can restart (with Vail Resorts),” Kanzer said. “I look forward to the time we can work hand in hand again.”
This story is from VailDaily.com.
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