Courtesy of Idaho Power Co.
BOISE — Idaho water managers have stepped up funding to help Idaho Power Co. continue building a cloud seeding program that’s already been credited with making sizable contributions to the state’s mountain snowpack.
The program releases silver iodide into the atmosphere, either from 53 remotely operated ground-based generators or from three leased aircraft, to serve as additional ice nuclei in the clouds and enhance precipitation. Idaho Power estimates additional snowpack resulting from the program, which it started in 2003, yields an average of 800,000 acre-feet of water — which is roughly half the volume of American Falls Reservoir and generates enough hydro-power to supply 17,000 homes.
Idaho Power engineering leader Jon Bowling said heading forward, irrigation organizations, the Idaho Water Resource Board and Idaho Power will each shoulder roughly a third of the program’s cost.
“We wouldn’t want our customers to bear the full cost of a program other stakeholders benefit from,” Bowling said. “I think we’ve had a pretty good reception to the collaborative funding mechanism.”
The board contributed $500,000 two years ago to help the program add infrastructure and followed with another $200,000 last year toward adding an airplane on a pilot-project basis for cloud seeding in the Upper Snake River Basin, said Brain Patton, Planning Bureau manager with the Idaho Department of Water Resources. Patton said the board voted May 20 to increase its Fiscal Year 2017 cloud seeding funding to $600,000, to be spread across the Eastern Snake, Boise and Wood River and Payette basins.
Idaho Ground Water Appropriators, Inc., made its first commitment to the program this season, totaling $45,000. Water District 1, which encompasses the Upper Snake system, contributed $200,000, it will continue to contribute toward a county-supported program in Eastern Idaho using manual generators, run by High Country Resource, Conservation and Development. Water District 63, which includes Boise River system, and Wood River water users each contributed $125,000.
Lyle Swank, watermaster with Water District 1, said his district’s contribution toward Idaho Power’s cloud seeding program represents 20 percent of its total budget, but members voted to assess themselves and contribute, nonetheless.
“When we can extract a little extra moisture from the atmosphere, that can be really helpful,” Swank said.
Bowling said Idaho Power is working with the National Center for Atmospheric Research to develop a model guiding operations and providing a cloud seeding benefit analysis.
Shaun Parkinson, Idaho Power’s water resources leader, estimates this winter’s program added 11.5 percent extra snow-water equivalent in the Payette Basin and 9.4 percent more moisture in the Boise Basin as of April 15, plus 4 to 5.4 percent more moisture in the Upper Snake as of April 1. He anticipates adding about three more generators to the program next winter, and eventually expects to include a fourth plane.
“It’s a new era in terms of collaboration and it remains to be seen who all will come to the table and join in,” Parkinson said.