Water managers try to feed clouds to coax snow from the sky
December 8, 2018
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — When Mother Nature does not cooperate, communities and water conservation groups try to keep the moisture falling from the clouds, especially during years plagued by drought.
The Yampa River relies on the moisture to help keep it healthy, as do local ranchers and those who ski laps at Steamboat Resort.
Cloud seeding and weather modification exists in Colorado, and longtime locals can attest to its success.
"I'm sure it's effective," said Doug Allen, retired director of operations for Steamboat Resort, who started working at the ski area in 1986.
While the ski area has not funded cloud seeding, state water management organizations have, with the hope of bringing in more moisture.
The process involves using generators to vaporize silver iodide into the clouds, causing ice crystals to grow large enough to fall to the ground.
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The Aspen Daily News recently reported there are 100 generator sites in Western Colorado funded by a $500,000 agreement between Arizona, California and Nevada to help feed the lower Colorado River Basin.
The practice is thought to be effective in about 30 percent of storms.
There are 25 manual cloud-seeding generators and two remote sites that run for five months during the year at about 8,500 feet in Pitkin, Eagle, Summit and Grand counties, according to the Daily News.
The cloud-seeding efforts could result in an additional 60,000 acre feet of water in the area's rivers.
By comparison, Stagecoach Reservoir in Routt County holds about 36,000 acre feet of water.
While there are no known cloud-seeding stations in Routt County, the Jackson County Water Conservancy District in neighboring Jackson County has recently been publishing legal notices about its desire to do cloud seeding.
Moisture and snowfall is key for a successful financial season at any ski area, but longtime Steamboat Resort employees could not recall the resort funding cloud seeding in the past.
Loris Werner, who helped develop the ski area, said he recalled a private company doing cloud seeding from Emerald Mountain in the 1970s.
"They did a lot of research with their plane," Werner said. "They would scoop particles up and analyze them."
Both Werner and Allen said the cloud seeding ushered in complaints from ranchers because there were floods.
"They didn't have all the dams and reservoirs and control," Werner said. "The river was just free flowing."
Allen also recalled the cloud-seeding era in Steamboat and the backlash from ranchers.
"The story goes that they ended up burying the fences (with snow), and the ranchers were all angry," Allen said.
There is some controversy and disagreement when it comes to cloud seeding and its potential impacts on public health.
"What's the cumulative effect if you added a hundred or more generators spewing silver nitrate into the atmosphere?" Pitkin County Commissioner Patti Clapper said to the Daily News. "What's the cumulative health risk of that?"