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Jackson County the first in Colorado to try new, aerial method of cloud-seeding in an effort to boost snowpack

The Jackson County Water Conservancy District was just issued a permit to begin aerial cloud-seeding in Colorado. It will be the first county in the state to test the new method.

Colorado needs more snow and officials are turning to new methods to try and create it.

Jackson County is becoming the first in the state to test aerial cloud-seeding.

The Jackson County Water Conservancy District is working with the Wyoming Water Development Office to bring the cloud-seeding method to Colorado. 

"What we are looking for is to augment our water supply in our basin. So we are trying to do cloud-seeding and target an area of our basin that typically has a short water supply during the season," said Kent Crowder, president of the Jackson County Water Conservancy District. 

Thursday, The Colorado Water Conservation Board (CWCB) issued a permit to Crowder and his team, giving them the green light to begin aerial cloud-seeding in Colorado. 

Cloud-seeding involves adding silver iodide into orographic winter clouds to help boost snowpack. 

"The way cloud seeding works is we can put substances into the cloud, and the substances merge with the super cool liquid and they produce snowflakes, and the snowflakes are heavy enough to fall down to the ground," said Katja Friedrich, a professor within the Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences at the University of Colorado Boulder.

Friedrich said silver iodide is used because it is a substance that closely resembles natural ice crystals. 

Friedrich took part in a recently published study that looked into aerial cloud-seeding. 

The research project, Seeded and Natural Orographic Wintertime Clouds – the Idaho Experiment (SNOWIE), was a joint project led by CU Boulder, the University of Wyoming and the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign.

Their work played a role in the Wyoming Water Development Office's decision to begin aerial cloud-seeding over the Wyoming mountain range in December 2018. 

For decades now, officials in both Wyoming and Colorado have been managing cloud-seeding operations from the ground. 

The Colorado River District helps oversee operations in Eagle, Summit, Pitkin and Grand counties. 

However, the research shows that while more expensive, aerial cloud-seeding could be more successful than ground operations. 

"The problem is they can keep burning the silver iodide on the ground and you hope you have enough updraft so the substance will be carried into the cloud," Friedrich said. "You can imagine that, especially if you have an orographic environment, it can be hard for these substances on the ground to reach all the way up to the clouds."

She added, "So the best way is if you take a research aircraft and you fly on top of these super cool liquid clouds and then you inject these flares that burn silver iodide into the clouds directly - so there is a pretty efficient way of seeding clouds." 

The Colorado River District will be closely watching the aerial cloud-seeding operations in Jackson County. 

Crowder says the county budgeted $29,764 for the winter season to cover aircraft time, fuel, crew, the flares and permitting costs. 

The money is coming from the county water conservancy district and water supply reserve funds, along with grant money, provided by the CWCB.

While Crowder and his team have the go ahead to begin operations, they must wait on the weather. 

"As soon as the weather conditions are correct. We have the super cool water conditions over the Never Summer mountains, the orographic clouds going up and over for the proper seeding so that it can be successful," Crowder said.  

If successful in Jackson County, the method could be expanded in other parts of Colorado.