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Amid new drought climate, cloud seeding to continue

Jan 6, 2013 - By Bob Moen, The Associated Press

It's described as the most comprehensive research-based project undertaken to determine whether cloud seeding works.

Drought conditions have posed a challenge but have not stopped Wyoming's ambitious cloud-seeding research project in the Wind River Mountains.

The state has invested about $13 million since 2005 in the project, which seeks to determine whether dispersing certain substances in the atmosphere can increase snowfall and the amount of snowpack in the Wind Rivers and several other mountain ranges.

Officials say it's the most comprehensive research-based project undertaken to determine whether cloud seeding works.

"We're continuing on," said Barry Lawrence, project manager with the Wyoming Water Development Office. "We got a lot of good science going on here. We're looking forward to when we are able to deliver our results, and that will be in a couple of years."

According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, 96 percent of Wyoming is experiencing drought conditions.

A related University of Wyoming research project that is monitoring the cloud seeding wasn't able to get enough data last winter because of the dry conditions and was extended into this winter.

Bart Geerts, a UW professor of atmospheric science, said storms are needed before the cloud-seeding monitoring can be done.

"We are on stand-down, and we're waiting for the weather to change," Geerts said Friday.

Cloud seeding involves injecting silver iodide into clouds. Under the right conditions, the chemical can help water droplets grow and fall to the ground.

Faced with water shortages and drought conditions, governments around the world and in the United States have undertaken cloud seeding in an attempt to wring more rain and snow from the sky. Critics say the technique is not proven and could pose a threat to the environment.

Most of Wyoming's water supply comes from winter snowfall in the mountains.

Supporters of the project say increasing the state's winter snowpack would provide more water for communities and irrigation and would be cheaper than building new dams and reservoirs.

Data gathered by the Wyoming project is evaluated by independent scientists.

The project has been extended twice since it began, but Lawrence said there are no plans to extend it again.

"We're pleased with how the program has been going, and we're just in a mindset to finish this up and deliver the results."

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