Cloud-seeding program shuts down
August 17, 2009
After more than 30 years of stimulating snowfall in and around the Lake Tahoe Basin, the Nevada Cloud Seeding Program closed for good this month as a result of budget cuts.
“It’s not really good for the ski resorts or anyone worried about water supplies in Lake Tahoe,” said Tom Swafford, principal research technician for the program. “Especially because it’s going to reduce the amount of snow that falls in the Truckee and Tahoe Basin. Anyone who uses water will be impacted.”
The last of 26 small stations stationed on mountaintops in and around Nevada was removed Aug. 7 from Alpine Meadows.
The cloud seeding program was an operation of the Desert Research Institute Division of Atmospheric Sciences and was in effect in Tahoe since the late 1960s. Mountain-top generators or planes would shoot particles of silver iodide into storm clouds to help form ice crystals and encourage snowfall.
The generators were activated during snow storms when needed, Swafford said.
One generator could generate an up to a 20-square-mile plume that could create hundreds to thousands of acre-feet of water, Swafford said.
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Impacts of the folded program could include reduced yearly snowpack, reduced water storage and less water, he said.
The program was shut down due to Nevada’s cuts to research funding. The program needed $550,000 to keep it going, Swafford said.
The stations created 65,000 acre-feet of water, Swafford said, the equivalent of two Stampede Reservoirs. Activated during a winter storm, the generators could squeeze another 10 to 15 percent more in snowfall, Swafford said.
Although it’s difficult to measure the exact impact cloud seeding had on the snow pack each year, Federal Water Master Garry Stone said the program definitely produced additional precipitation.
“It’s probably going to end up having a negative affects on precipitation,” Stone said about the closure. “It’s been a good program and it has produced a greater snowpack than what we would have had.”