Idaho water officials want to expand cloud seeding efforts by taking an aerial approach to coax more snow from winter storms.
The Idaho Water Resource Board has approved spending $200,000 for a one-year aerial cloud seeding project. Officials want to use an aircraft to disperse cloud seeding chemicals in the Upper Snake River Basin in eastern Idaho.
Cloud seeding has become a popular solution among water managers not only in Idaho but also across the West as drought conditions have worsened. While some have questioned its effectiveness, cloud seeding advocates argue that the chemical boost is a much needed benefit to Mother Nature during the winter.
The state will work with Idaho Power — which has been expanding its own cloud seeding efforts since the early 2000s — to conduct the project.
“After a year, if the board wants to continue the program, we’ll help pay for it with the expectation water users in the Upper Snake will also help out,” said Brian Patton, the state department’s planning bureau chief.
Shaun Parkinson with Idaho Power said airplanes provide more opportunity to shoot silver iodide into the air stream rather than ground-based methods. When silver iodide is introduced into water droplets, it helps them form into ice crystals and attract other droplets until they have enough weight to fall from the sky as snowflakes.
The goal is to spread the chemical when the temperature is low enough to create snow, not rain. Snow is needed to build the snowpack, so water will run off the mountains and into the rivers in the spring.
Aerial distribution can either take place by attaching the chemical to the plane and flying through the clouds or simply releasing it into the sky from the airplane. Ground-based generators are often prohibited from injecting the chemicals because the temperatures are too warm below, even if it’s much colder up above.
The project will likely use a plane based in Pocatello or Idaho Falls to deliver the chemicals to the Upper Snake River Basin’s mountainous region.
“The state has been very supportive of the concept,” Parkinson said.
The company has seen snowpack levels improve by 14 percent through cloud seeding in the Payette Basin and is surveying snowpack levels in other areas where the company has installed ground-based generators, Parkinson said.
Idaho Power has more than 40 ground-based generators used for cloud seeding in four different locations across the state.