By Bob Moen
Monday, December 26, 2005
CHEYENNE, Wyo. -- Like most other Western states, Wyoming is rich in oil, gas, coal and other mineral deposits. What it lacks is simple: water.
So, like other Western states, Wyoming is trying to conjure up rain by embarking on a cloud-seeding project to bolster mountain snowpack -- the reservoirs of the arid and semiarid West -- and create more water from spring and summer snowmelt.
If more snow can be produced in the mountains by cloud seeding, it would mean more water for cities, towns and farms.
But Wyoming's $8.8 million, five-year cloud-seeding project goes beyond what other states are doing -- not only because of its size and scope but also because it could yield definitive proof of whether cloud seeding works.
"Hopefully, in Wyoming we'll find evidence for that to be a viable tool in water resource management," said Daniel Breed, project scientist with the National Center for Atmospheric Research.
Millions of dollars are already being spent in a number of states, especially in the West, to spew silver iodide into storm clouds to coax more rain and snow to fall.
In a recent letter to Interior Secretary Gale A. Norton, representatives of seven states -- Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming -- identified cloud seeding as a key component for dealing with or averting future water shortages brought on by population growth in the West.
Whether cloud seeding works has been the subject of debate among the scientific community.
In 2003, the National Academy of Sciences questioned the science behind cloud seeding as "too weak" to prove it works. The academy called for a national research effort into cloud seeding.
Arlen Huggins, a Nevada research scientist, said a lack of money has limited research into cloud seeding over the past decade. Federally funded research that ended in the early 1990s produced evidence that cloud seeding works in the mountains, but not enough to meet scientific standards, he said.
The Wyoming project seeks to determine whether cloud seeding can increase runoff from three mountain ranges -- the Wind River, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre. The project is in its early stages, and no cloud seeding is expected to begin until next year.
"The Wyoming program is very unique with the amount of science that's being employed," said Barry Lawrence, project manager of the Wyoming Water Development Commission. "The scientists are involved throughout the process."
The state is paying $1.9 million for the National Center for Atmospheric Research to monitor and study the cloud seeding in Wyoming.
"We have not been involved with research of this magnitude for a five-year period," said Bruce Boe, director of meteorology with Weather Modification Inc., which has been hired to do the cloud seeding in Wyoming. "In a way, it's kind of amazing to me that no one has done this before."