Cloud seeding is becoming big business in drought-stricken areas like the Rockies, despite dubious research.
Cloud seeding as it’s practiced today works like this. Seeders, either tower-mounted or by airplane, shoot silver iodide into clouds. The particulates bind airborne moisture to themselves, which forms ice. They then fall as snow, or melt into rain.
“Cloud seeding generates water that wouldn’t have been there before,” said Bryan Seppie, general manager of the Joint Powers Water Board providing water to southwestern Wyoming communities. “That’s just a benefit to the entire system.”
Wyoming, which has seen almost twenty years of drought along with the rest of the Colorado River watershed, is in dire need of water. Cloud seeding is used to increase the snowpack there, on the west side of the Wind River Mountains. But many experts believe that cloud seeding only steals water from other places, also in need.
“It’s always easier to talk about how to get more water than to talk about how to use less,” said Kathryn Sorensen with the Kyl Center for Water Policy at Arizona State University in Tempe. “When you look at the problem of over-allocation on the Colorado River, the numbers are so large that really the solutions lie in using less, particularly in the agricultural sector. Politically that’s really painful to confront.”
But the practice has heavy state support in Wyoming and Colorado, both of which have state-run programs. Utah also has been increasing their investment into cloud seeding, and their state legislature just approved a large increase of funding into programs and research.
Studies by the National Academy of Sciences failed to find any statistically significant results out of cloud seeding, seeing only a 3% increase of snowpack over an entire season, an increase that could have been random variation. It also could simply have been the result of airplanes flying through clouds. There are also implications of the addition of silver iodide to the environment.