the film
Commentaries and editorials

Idaho Power Tries Cloud Seeding Despite Skeptics

by Rebecca Boone, Associated Press
Lewiston Tribune - November 28, 2003

BOISE -- Idaho Power hydrologists are trying to offset a four-year drought and force the clouds to make snow under a controversial cloud-seeding program.

The utility is using two generators in western Idaho south of Cascade to send small amounts of silver iodide into clouds containing supercooled water vapor. The silver iodide is meant to help the vapor in the clouds freeze and form snow.

Idaho Power began its cloud seeding program late last winter and started this year's effort last month.

"We wanted to enhance the snowfall from a front that was passing through," said Roger Fuhrman, Idaho Power's director of water management.

"Our goal is to get as much from each storm system as possible."

The company relies on snowfall for enough water to generate electricity at its Hells Canyon dams.

But a recent report by the National Research Council, an arm of the National Academy of Sciences, warns that there is no scientifically credible proof that cloud-seeding and other weather modification programs work.

Even if cloud-seeding does work, there is still debate over whether it should be used and when, said Julie Demuth, a research associate with the National Research Council's Board on Atmospheric Sciences and Climate.

"There are some socioeconomic implications," Demuth said.

"The idea that this is tampering with nature, for instance, or liability issues over whether rain or snow should be made to fall in a certain spot. Another issue that has been brought up is a basic environmental issue, on putting a product into the environment that naturally doesn't belong."

Some groups believe cloud seeding denies some regions of rain or snow by forcing the precipitation to fall earlier than it normally would have, Demuth noted.

The so-called "robbing Peter to pay Paul" theory may apply to rain making, but not winter cloud seeding, Idaho Power spokesman Dennis Lopez said.

"This is water that wouldn't have fallen anyway because it's supercold," Lopez said.

"Basically, you look for a front that you can introduce this agent into to enhance the snow fall."

Besides research into whether cloud seeding is effective, the National Research Council would like to review the risks of cloud-seeding compared to its possible benefits, Demuth said. That is unlikely, however.

Support for weather modification research in the United States has dropped from a peak of $20 million a year during the 1970s to less than $500,000 now being spent yearly, according to the report.

Idaho Power is spending about $700,000 a year on the pilot program, Lopez said.

"We'll continue to use this as a long-range weather management tool," Lopez said.

Rebecca Boone, Associated Press
Idaho Power Tries Cloud Seeding Despite Skeptics
Lewiston Tribune, November 28, 2003

See what you can learn

learn more on topics covered in the film
see the video
read the script
learn the songs
discussion forum
salmon animation