ALAMOSA — Although there are currently no cloud seeding operations in the San Luis Valley, some folks believe this might be a good place for it.
Joe Busto, who oversees weather modification permits for the Colorado Water Conservation Board, gave the Rio Grande Roundtable group a crash course on cloud seeding during its Tuesday meeting. The Valley-wide water group funds many water related projects in the Rio Grande Basin from ditch repair to reservoir rehab. The group was not asked for funding at this time.
Busto said that another form of weather modification, hail cannons, previously operated in the San Luis Valley under a permit with Southern Colorado Farms, but the agricultural operation discontinued the practice.
Cloud seeding occurs all around the region from Texas to North Dakota, Busto stated.
Many of the cloud seeding operations in Colorado are associated with ski areas such as Vail, Crested Butte and Breckenridge, Busto explained. Others are connected to water districts. There are currently 110 machines in the state. He described the primary catalysts as either silver iodide, which is expensive but effective (and not harmful to the environment), or propane, which is cheaper.
Before setting up a machine, plume dispersion tests are conducted to determine how the winds are blowing and from what direction so the cloud seeding operation can be set up to provide the most good.
Operations are also the most effective when machines are set up at higher elevations, Busto explained.
Roundtable member Travis Smith asked, “Is the Rio Grande ready to start participating in a winter time cloud seeding program?”
Roundtable member Charlie Spielman said he saw this as a solution to the imbalance between water supply and demand.
“Cloud seeding is the best opportunity within our reach of making a real dent in that supply/demand gap,” he said.
He encouraged “getting a program going here … Let’s put something into this because I think this is our best chance.”
Busto said he believed a lean cloud seeding operation could be put in place for about $60,000 a year. He said he believed there could be many benefits to this area as well as downstream.