Cloud seeding expands to Idaho’s Wood River
By John O’Connell
Idaho Power Co. is partnering with irrigators to expand its high-tech cloud seeding program into the Wood River watershed.
The utility is also investigating opportunities in the Boise River Basin and the Wyoming mountains at the headwaters of the Upper Snake River Basin.
Lynn Harmon, administrator with the Big Wood Canal Co., said his board has reached a three-year agreement with Idaho Power, budgeting $50,000 per year toward cloud seeding beginning this winter. Under appropriate conditions, Idaho Power will seed storms bound for the Big Wood and Little Wood basins with its King Air C90 plane.
Torches mounted on the plane or dropped from it burn silver iodide, spreading particles through clouds to attract water vapor and fall as snow.
Harmon plans to eventually supplement aircraft cloud seeding in the Wood River watershed with Idaho Power remotely operated propane generators, which burn silver iodide from high atop mountain slopes. His board members were impressed by an Idaho Power presentation, and the canal company retains the right to cancel the contract at any time.
In the Payette River watershed, where Idaho Power will continue using its plain in conjunction with 17 ground-based generators, the utility’s modeling estimates cloud seeding has boosted annual snowfall by an average of 14.4 percent between 2003 and 2013, said Shaun Parkinson, Idaho Power water resources leader.
“Even a 10 percent improvement, that’s a lot of dollars when you look at the potential crops you could raise,” Harmon said.
Idaho Power has also installed seven high-resolution weather gages in the Payette, which will be put to use this winter to provide better data for fine-tuning the computer weather model used for basing cloud seeding decisions.
Though December was a dry month, Parkinson said Idaho Power conducted more seeding in November than during all of last winter combined. Idaho Power, which has a $1 million annual cloud seeding budget, started its program in 2003.
Idaho Power also has 19 remotely operated generators on the ground throughout the Upper Snake Basin, working in conjunction with Marty and Connie Owen with the private cloud seeding company Let it Snow.
Clark County contracts with Let it Snow on behalf of a group of about 40 contributing counties, irrigation districts, cities and other partners. The project has an annual budget of $165,000 but spent only $89,000 last season due to a lack of good storms to seed. The Owens hire farmers and other rural residents with high-elevation property to manually run 25 generators. They consult with Idaho Power meteorologists about when to seed. They’ve run generators for 275 hours this season and are budgeted for 6,000 hours. Models show Upper Snake cloud seeding improves snowfall by 3 percent on average.
“If you get even a 1 percent improvement, you’ve paid for the project,” Marty Owen said.
In the Wood River watershed, Parkinson believes seven to 10 remotely operated generators would suffice. Idaho Power is also working toward an agreement with Boise River irrigators, where about 10 more generators would be needed.
Parkinson said Idaho Power will also pay close attention to a Wyoming state-funded study on cloud seeding, hoping to eventually seed in the Wyoming mountains near Idaho.