CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Wyoming will start an active cloud-seeding program in four mountain ranges after its near decade-long research project indicated that the practice can help increase snowpack, which is the state's main source of water.
A water project bill approved in this year's legislative session included $1.4 million to initiate an operational cloud-seeding program in the Big Horn, Laramie, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains. Separately, it appropriated another $650,000 for cloud seeding in the Wind River Mountains for next winter if other states in the Colorado River Basin chip in money.
Sen. Curt Meier, R-LaGrange, was instrumental in getting money for the weather-modification programs.
"We're trying to play catch-up as a state in Wyoming," Meier said, noting that other states already have cloud-seeding programs. "We've done a lot to get the science and to understand what works and what doesn't work in weather modification."
Cloud seeding involves injecting silver iodide into clouds either from aircraft or from generators on the ground. Under the right conditions, the chemical can help water droplets grow and fall to the ground.
Wyoming last year completed a $13 million research project that began in 2005 to determine whether cloud seeding would increase the amount of snowpack in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre ranges in southern Wyoming and the Wind River Range in central Wyoming. The research indicated that cloud seeding can increase mountain snowfall by up to 15 percent a year and has negligible environmental effects.
Most of Wyoming's water supply comes from mountain snowfall that melts and fills reservoirs for crop irrigation and municipal water systems.
Despite the research results, some lawmakers opposed starting a cloud-seeding program, saying the state was moving too quickly.
"They have positive results, but they're not great," Rep. Mike Greear, R-Worland, said. "And now we're just going to go ahead and jump in and take over some different basins."
Greear said he would have preferred more analysis on the economic benefits of cloud seeding. In addition, he's concerned about starting a new program that will draw down a state fund for water projects.
Harry LaBonde Jr., director of the Water Development Office, said it may take several years to establish a cloud-seeding program may because of the many undetermined factors, such as whether environmental studies are required and whether federal permits are needed. How much the program will end up costing once it is established also is not immediately clear, LaBonde said.
"Based on the scientific study, we may want to increase the number of generators, so that affects the cost," he said. "So it really is up in the air. That's what we'll be working on the next year or two."
Meier said he'd like to see neighboring states contribute to Wyoming's program because they also benefit from increased runoff into the rivers that flow through their states. "We'll look for some partners, and I think we'll find it because after all it gets dry out here in the West," he said.