by Brett Forrest
Courtesy: Desert Research Institute
LAS VEGAS (KSNV) — Nevada state lawmakers unanimously agreed to send $1.2 million over the next two years to continue—and expand—a statewide cloud seeding project.
Last fall, Save Red Rock and the Desert Research Institute (DRI) launched a campaign to privately fund and operate a cloud seed generator in the Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area.
“If you go out to Red Rock at all, you’ll see the ravages of drought. There’s a couple of major springs, which feed 80% of the animals in Red Rock Canyon, and they’ve just been absolutely 100% bone dry for over a decade,” said Pauline van Betten, the land and water specialist for Save Red Rock. “People are going to come, and they’re just going to see a cemetery of dead trees. So it’s imperative that we preserve it in every way that we can.”
That concern is what led to the idea of placing a cloud seed generator to target the Red Rock Canyon region.
Cloud seeding is decades old and isn’t new in the state of Nevada, but the 2008 economic recession put the program on pause for over a decade. Save Red Rock and DRI were optimistic about bringing it back, raising over $100,000 last year to confirm it.
“Our goal has always been to prove out our theory that we could use a cloud generator that would deliver precipitation right over Red Rock Canyon,” said van Betten. “Now we have that data. And so, with that data, we were able to show the elected officials that we can. We can save Red Rock with a cloud seeder.”
The funding will be separated into $600,000 each year until 2025, at which point the groups hope to receive more support from the Legislature during the next session.
The cloud seeding generators will be placed and operating not only in Red Rock and Mount Charleston areas but covering mountain ranges from northeastern Nevada into the Sierra Nevada.
They only work in colder temperatures due to the science behind it, so don’t expect extra moisture to fall during the summer months. (Though there are possibilities to seed monsoon season clouds with aircraft, it’s not an option often utilized for a variety of reasons).
“Ultimately, it’s not going to be the—we’re not going to fill Lake Mead with cloud seeding. I think it should be viewed as a tool in the toolbox of water managers,” said Frank McDonough, a research meteorologist and the director of DRI’s cloud seeding program. “It is pretty much the only known way to increase precipitation over just letting mother nature do her thing.”
McDonough said despite not being an end-all-be-all solution for the American Southwest’s severe drought, cloud seeding can be expected to increase precipitation by about 10% over the course of the winter months.
Last year in Red Rock Canyon, the cloud seed generator produced more than 6,500 acre-feet of water that was added back into Red Rock’s aquifers. An acre-foot of water is equivalent to about the annual water use of two to three households. It was a record-breaking winter in the Spring Mountains, which certainly helped, but the groups believe future winters will yield continued results, though maybe not as impressive.
And McDonough said the data from these generators is beneficial beyond just the area they target.
“A lot of our research actually ends up being applied in places like Colorado and Wyoming and Utah, which then sends water down into Lake Mead,” he said. “So there’s cloud seeding done in the Rockies that is ending up serving Lake Mead and Lake Powell. So what we do is, it serves the bigger community as well.”