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Unique Wyoming cloud-seeding research project partly suspended because of big snowpack

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CHEYENNE, Wyoming — Above-average snowfall in the mountains of southern Wyoming has forced an early end to part of the state's cloud-seeding research project as a precaution against exacerbating potential spring flooding.

Barry Lawrence, project manager with the Wyoming Water Development Office, said the cloud seeding was stopped as of Wednesday morning in the Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre ranges in southern Wyoming. Cloud seeding had been scheduled to end April 30.

Cloud seeding continues in the Wind River Range in central Wyoming, and the early termination of the project in the southern mountains will not affect this success of the overall project this winter, Lawrence said.

The snowpack in the Medicine Bow Range has reached 120 percent of the 30-year average, which means the spring runoff into rivers and streams will be greater than usual.

"We don't want to exacerbate anything that could be coming down the road," Lawrence said. "It's not worth continuing on, so we're pulling the plug."

The snowpack in the Wind River Range has reached 107 percent of average, and if it reaches 120 percent, cloud seeding there also will be stopped, he said. "You're talking one or two storms and we're probably there," Lawrence said.

Overall, the cloud-seeding project has been a success in its final year, he said.

The Wyoming project was hampered the previous two winters by drought conditions that limited the chances for cloud seeding to just over a dozen each winter. In order for scientists to adequately determine whether the cloud seeding has worked, they need a statistically valid set of data, which depends on the number of times cloud seeding is successfully conducted.

Researchers conducted 29 successful cloud-seeding operations this winter already, Lawrence said.

The state has invested about $13 million since 2005 in the project, which seeks to determine whether cloud seeding increases the amount of snowpack in several of the state's mountain ranges. 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.

Researchers in Wyoming have been using ground-based generators to create silver iodide, which is then carried by air currents into clouds.

Facing water shortages and drought conditions, governments around the world and in the United States have undertaken cloud seeding in an attempt to wring more rain and snow from the sky. Critics say the technique is not proven and could pose a threat to the environment.

Most of Wyoming's water supply comes from winter snowfall in the mountains. Supporters of the project say increasing the state's winter snowpack would provide more water for communities and irrigation and would be cheaper than building dams and reservoirs.

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