A cloud seeding program that was on the chopping block due to the county’s budget crisis has been saved by a coalition of local water users.
Cloud seeding as a means of increasing snowpack started in Tooele County in 1976 and ran until the 1982 water year, according to the Utah Division of Water Resources. The project began again in 1989 through 1992, and has run from 1996 to the present.
A cloud-seeding machine looks unassuming — it’s a metal box hooked to a propane tank. However, inside the box, a solution of acetone and silver iodide is burned that releases silver iodide particles into the clouds through a plume of exhaust that comes out of the top of the box from the burner. The introduction of the silver iodide particles into clouds containing super-cooled water droplets can help form ice crystals that have the potential to become snowflakes, thus increasing snowpack.
Currently, nine of these machines are spread across Tooele County. Tooele resident Stew Paulick, chairman of the Utah Board of Water Resources — the policymaking body of the Division of Water Resources — said one of the functions of the board is to fund water projects. This includes cloud seeding, though the board only provides half the money necessary for any seeding project in the state.
“The board leaves it up to local entities to provide the other 50 percent of the funding,” he said. “In our case, it’s been Tooele County funding that 50 percent. I learned a couple of months ago that Tooele County wouldn’t be able to finance that 50 percent anymore because of their budget issues.”
Paulick said losing the cloud seeding project in the county would be detrimental to the area because of the low snowpack seen last winter and the dry, hot summer the county had this year.
“Being in a drought like we’re in, it is a poor time to stop cloud seeding. [Tooele County] Commissioner [Jerry] Hurst and I contacted the larger users of water in the northeast end of the county to see what we could do,” he said. “That included Tooele City, Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company, Grantsville City, Grantsville Irrigation Company, Kennecott and Ensign Ranches. They each agreed to contribute money to pay the other 50 percent.”
Paulick said the total annual bill to keep the cloud seeding machines running is $23,870. The $11,935 the county had to come up with was split between these entities: Kennecott pitched in $5,000; Tooele City, Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company and Grantsville Irrigation Company pitched in $2,000 each; Grantsville City pitched in $1,750; and Ensign Ranches pitched in $1,000. Paulick said when he and Hurst first began asking different entities to pitch in, they weren’t sure how many would participate. The groups that pitched in $2,000 each were the first ones to meet and figured that was about the right amount each entity should contribute because at that time they didn’t know what the annual cost would be. Other groups joined in later, with Kennecott pitching in enough for some monies to be reserved for next year’s program costs.
“We have to pay that amount annually to keep the program going,” said Gary Bevan, president of Settlement Canyon Irrigation Company. “I hated to see the county quit paying for it because to me that was doing the most good for probably the most residents of the county. Next year somebody will have to pick it up again. We’ll try to determine if it’s necessary next year, and if we will help to fund it again.”
The annual cost covers maintenance of the generators, the purchase of the propane and silver iodide, payment of the cloud seeding operators who turn the machines on and off during and after storms, and monthly precipitation reports generated by North American Weather Consultants, the company that installs the cloud seeding machines in Tooele County.
Although the county was unable to pay its share this year, Hurst said he was able to speak with North American Weather Consultants to procure four more stations to be installed within the next few months.
“We asked them to do it for free and they said they would,” Hurst said. “We told the company we’d benefit by having more stations and they agreed.”
Hurst said the new machines will be installed at Brown Ranch on Ensign Ranch property in Skull Valley, the residence of Neil Evans in Skull Valley, the residence of Jay De La Mare in Tooele at the mouth of Settlement Canyon, and at Moore’s Auto Shop in Lake Point on SR-36. Hurst expects the new stations will be placed within the next few months.
The nine other cloud seeding stations are located in various areas around the county. Three are located west of the Stansbury Mountains in Skull Valley and six are located in the Tooele Valley, upwind of the Oquirrh Mountains. Local residents are contracted to operate these generators, which are currently located in Erda, Grantsville, Stockton, Clover, Faust, Pine Canyon, Skull Valley (north and south ends) and Terra.
Hurst said the cloud seeding machines are important to Tooele County because they generate, on average, an 11 to 15 percent increase in precipitation.
“Cloud seeding has been shown to enhance the snowpack in our area by about 15 percent,” Paulick said. “That’s a big deal, especially in our area. If you just depend on the weather to deliver, one year you’ll get a flood and the next you’ll get a drought. Cloud seeding is one thing that can help.”