ELKO – Elko County Commissioners have agreed to contribute to the Ruby Mountain Cloud Seeding Project that last year produced roughly 19,712 acre-feet of additional snow water equivalent in the Ruby Mountains, but they acknowledged that current snowpack is above normal.
Chairman Rex Steninger said the project is a “great program,” and he supported funding even though the water season is off to a good start this winter.
“It benefits everyone. It benefits the hunters, the fishermen, water sports enthusiasts, the ranchers, the wildlife and even the developers who have to come up with water to develop lots,” he said before commissioners voted Jan. 4 to provide $3,500 to the project.
Commissioner Delmo Andreozzi said the program is vital and the more snowpack the better “economically,” also stating that despite the good snowpack now “you don’t have to look very far to find an empty reservoir.”
Commissioner Wilde Brough expressed concern that after a good year of snowpack, then the cloud-seeding project stops only to start again later. Last year was the first year after a stoppage.
December precipitation totaled 200% of average in various locations in northeastern Nevada, with the top of Lamoille Canyon showing 84 inches of snow in late December, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s snow monitoring website.
Snowpack in all river basins in northeastern Nevada were well above average as of Jan. 1, with the Upper Humboldt’s snow water equivalent at 219%; Lower Humboldt at 186%; Clover Valley and Franklin at 240%; Owyhee, 176%; Snake River, 147%; and Eastern Nevada at 221%, according to the USDA.
Elko County’s contribution to the cloud seeding will be funded through the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority and the Desert Research Institute, and the water authority will be providing $5,000, in addition to asking each county in the water authority to contribute $3,500.
The Humboldt River Basin Water Authority is made up of Elko, Lander, Humboldt, Pershing and Eureka counties.
Most of the funding will come from the William N. Pennington Foundation, however. The foundation has agreed for the second year in a row to provide $60,000 to the Desert Research Institute to help pay for the cloud seeding in the Humboldt River Basin. Matches brought the total to $120,000 last year.
Steninger, who is on the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority Board, said commissioners need to thank the Pennington Foundation. Brough is also on the authority board.
In addition to the Ruby Mountain seeding, the project last year generated 4,956 acre-feet of snow water equivalent in the Santa Rosa Mountains in Humboldt County. The cost for the seeding of both areas was $4.86 per acre-foot, according to a letter to commissioners from Jeff Fontaine, executive director of the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority.
Brough, a rancher, said he wished he could obtain water for $4.86 per acre-foot.
For comparison, Steninger wondered how much Elko County received for water rights at the Northeastern Nevada Regional Railport sold for a proposed meat-packing plant at Devils Gate Ranch. The county sold 5.81 acre-feet of water for the plant for $37,500 or almost $6,500 per acre-foot.
Fontaine was citing the Desert Research Institute’s Humboldt River Basin Cloud Seeding Project Water Year 2022 Report that stated 704 generator-hours went into the project in the Ruby Mountains and 177 generator hours in the Santa Rosa Mountains last year.
The report written in late October by Frank McDonough, project manager with the Division of Atmospheric Sciences at the Desert Research Institute, says that there were eight cloud seeding generators operating beginning Dec. 1, 2021, including six in the Ruby Mountains and two in the Santa Rosa Mountains.
He said the project continued through the second week of May, with 26 storm periods seeded in the Rubies and 24 storm periods seeded in the Santa Rosas.
The North American Weather Modification Council explains that the cloud-seeding process aids precipitation formation by enhancing ice crystal production in the clouds. When the ice crystals grow sufficiently, they become snowflakes and fall to the ground.
The process uses silver iodide, which has been selected for its environmental safety, according to literature published by the modification council, which includes the Desert Research Institute as a member.
McDonough also wrote that in addition to the $120,000 for the cloud-seeding project last year, more funding was raised from sponsors to create a model-based cloud seeding analysis for the other mountain ranges in the Humboldt River Basin not included in the 2021-2022 project.
The DRI has other cloud-seeding research and operations planned for this winter in addition to the Ruby and Santa Rosa mountains, according to its website. The other mountain ranges will be Lake Tahoe Basin, Spring Mountains, San Juan Mountains and the Upper Colorado River Headwaters region along the Continental Divide in northern Colorado.
The Humboldt River Basin Water Authority also is helping state Sen. Pete Goicoechea, R-Eureka, on a statewide cloud-seeding bill.
“Looking ahead to the 2023-2025 winter seasons, the Humboldt River Basin Water Authority is working with Senator Goicoechea, who is sponsoring a bill for an appropriation of $1.2 million to conduct statewide cloud seeding operations at existing sites on a cost share basis,” Fontaine said in his letter to commissioners.
The stakes are high, not just at the tables on the Las Vegas Strip, but just a short drive away at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area. “If we don’t do something, we’re going to be looking at a landscape of dead trees in our national park,” said Pauline Van Betten with the nonprofit organization Save Red Rock.The megadrought gripping the Western U.S. for the last two decades has dried out the canyon.”The Joshua Trees are drying. The desert is brown,” Van Betten said.And the animals that live in the canyon, like coyotes, are wandering out into nearby suburban neighborhoods, searching for food and water.”They won’t just leave, they’ll perish,” Van Betten continued. “We have a lot of endangered species in Red Rock Canyon that are supported because this is such a pristine natural area, and they are not going to survive.”The fear is the canyon’s ecosystem may not survive the drought either. The marsh lands, natural spring and aquifer have dried up.SEE MORE: Why Is The U.S. West Experiencing A Megadrought?Save Red Rock is turning to the sky for help.The friends of Red Rock are hoping to seed clouds, not so much for rain, but more for snow pack because it will melt more slowly next year and that will help increase the aquifer. The Desert Research Institute is partnering with the group to try to increase winter precipitation by 10%. “It’s feast or famine for the Vegas area for winter precipitation,” Desert Research Institute Meteorologist Frank McDonough said. The scientists will launch microscopic silver iodine crystals into the sky. The water vapor in the clouds will latch on to them it and hopefully, make it snow. “[The process will] increase the clouds’ ability to convert the small particles, small water drops and ice crystals, into larger water drops and ice crystals. So they will fall out as increased precipitation,” McDonough continued. “We’ll land snow on the higher elevations of the Spring Mountains in hopes that snowpack will melt and recharge aquifers, grounds and springs.Even if the clouds start dumping snow into the canyon, it’s not going to break the drought.”It’s not going to fix the problem,” McDonough said. “The problem is the long-term lack of storms and the additional evaporation from the warmer temperatures.” But the snow and rain may be enough to keep the Joshua trees and cottonwoods alive and provide water for the animals until the megadrought snaps. To donate to the Save Red Rock organization and help fund this project, visit saveredrock.com.