Last August, North American Weather Consultants (NAWC) asked the Colorado Water and Conservation Board (CWCB) to renew its permit for 10 years. So now, cloud seeding is back in action in Gunnison County this year, after NAWC was granted a seven-year renewal of its operating permit.
“It turned out to be a seven-year permit because the state has a sunset review of their licensing and permitting procedures at the state level,” said Don Griffith, NAWC president. With funding assistance from the Upper Gunnison River Water Conservancy District ($26,500), Gunnison County ($10,000), and Mt. Crested Butte ($3,000), NAWC can continue “seeding” winter clouds with propane burners to boost winter snowfall. According to Griffith, the program started in the middle of November this year but didn’t begin seeding until December. So far, six storms have been seeded. The burners’ yellow flames, including one that can be seen near Three Rivers Resort in Almont, burn a mixture of sodium and silver iodide into the lower layers of clouds. That silver iodide can cause water droplets to turn to snow at warmer temperatures than they otherwise would. NAWC estimates that they boost winter storms by about 10 percent to 15 percent. Last August, prior to the program’s permit renewal, Griffith reminded the Gunnison County commissioners that while effective, cloud seeding is not a silver bullet that can reverse drought conditions like the county saw last year. “If you’re going to have 50 percent of snowfall naturally, and you get a 10 percent increase from cloud seeding, that would still result in a snowpack 55 percent of average,” Griffith explained. “There’s still a drought—it’s just going to be a little less dry than it would be naturally.” The total cost of the program is right around $95,000 per year, and NAWC estimates that produces additional water to the tune of about $1 per acre-foot. Matching funds from the state bolster local contributions to reach the full amount.