A legal announcement in the Thursday (Nov. 4) edition of the Taos News is sparking interest through the Northern New Mexico region not only for its proposal to use cloud seeding to help “increase precipitation/snowpack water content in the primary target area,” but also for its short comment period the public can use to raise objections.
The proposal by Western Weather Consultants of Durango, Colorado filed an application with the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission for a “weather control and precipitation enhancement license to conduct a ground-based operation,” which is slated to begin Dec. 13 — depending on whether the license is granted by the NMISC — until March 15, 2022.
The beginning of the project, however, may be affected by whether members of the public raise objections in writing either as an individual, firm, corporation “or other entity asserting standing to file protests.” The legal notice states that written protests must be filed “within 10 days following the final day of publication.” That was Nov. 4, which means, unless challenged, the end date for public comment will be Nov. 21.
Asked if this was the common length of time for a comment period, Christina Noftsker of the N.M. Interstate Stream Commission, which is in charge of granting the WWC a license to conduct its work, said “This program doesn’t match up with other branches in the state engineer’s office, but it appears to be normal for weather modification.” Public comment period is commonly 30 to 60 days, according to regulations.gov.
The NMISC staff has issued a preliminary recommendation for approval, but it reserves the right to provide final approval of the application.
Weather modification not new to region
Noftsker added that WWC has been conducting weather modification projects in Colorado for “I think. 20 years. New Mexico has been involved with that program for approximately seven years. We provide some money to a Colorado River Basin group that does cloud seeding. So, the Interstate Stream Commission participates by virtue of providing some funding for that program. We provide $20,000 to that program and a total of something like $1.5 million is put toward cloud seeding in Colorado.”
Asked if she knew what prompted the WWC to conduct cloud seeding in New Mexico, Noftsker said, “No, I’m not in that loop.”
However, the legal notice states the “intended effect of the operation is to increase precipitation/snowpack water content … to benefit: natural habitat, agriculture, municipal water, stock growers, recreational and tourism interests, local economy.” Noftsker also said the Southwest has been in the midst of a 20-year drought.
“WWC seeded a total of 32 storms over 47 days and 2,500.19 hours of cloud seeding between Nov. 8, 2020, and April 19, 2021,” according to WWC’s report on cloud seeding for its Central Colorado Mountains River Basins Weather Modification Program. “The objective of the CCMRB Program is to increase precipitation through the augmentation of natural precipitation within the project Target Area … to improve early season snowpack for ski resort activities and increase the high elevation snowpack which helps replenish the water supply to the Upper Colorado River Basin.”
Within the proposed target area in New Mexico are Red River, Taos, Angel Fire, Sipapu and Santa Fe ski areas. There is also a significant amount of farming, ranching, hunting, fishing, and other environmental and recreational activities in the area.
What are they planning?
The procedures used by Western Weather Consultants involve “ground-based cloud seeding generators to increase precipitation/snowpack water content in the Primary Target Area to benefit: the natural habitat, agriculture, municipal water, stock growers, recreational and tourism interests, and the area economy,” according to a company statement.
So, instead of the common notion of cloud seeding being conducted from aircraft, this method uses a device set in the ground which generates a mist that is directed upward to potential clouds. “I like to think of it like a big bunsen burner,” said 82-year-old WWC Manager Larry Hjermstad.
The devices, called Cloud-seeding Nuclei Generators, will produce plumes of silver iodide crystals (artificial cloud nuclei) “at rates between 5 and 28 grams per hour from multiple ground based CNG sites to be diffused by favorable wind flows into selected storms or cloud types suitable for precipitation increases meeting the seeding criteria over the target area.”
The Colorado project used a 4 percent silver iodide and 1.23 percent sodium iodide solution in acetone.
The legal notice also states that WWC will monitor avalanche potential. “Operations will be suspended if the snowpack within a river basin reaches 175 percent of normal Snow Water Equivalent through January, 165 percent SWE through February and 155 percent SWE through March. Highway avalanche conditions will be monitored and seeding will be suspended as appropriate.”
Where will it take place?
The target area is described as the Sangre de Cristo Mountains above 9,000 feet and specifically in the upper regions of the Pecos Headwaters, Rio Grande-Santa Fe, Mora, Upper Rio Grande, and Cimarrón River Basins within Taos, Santa Fe, Rio Arriba, Mora, and Colfax Counties in New Mexico. The program is said to be designed, operated, and intended to affect only the target area, the proposal states.
What’s in the mist?
The common seeding material is silver iodide, which according to Hjermstad, is used in very minimal amounts. When the material is carried aloft in a mist it bonds with water droplets in a cloud, causing rain or snow to fall, depending on temperature or other weather conditions.
Hjermstad said each generator stands about five feet tall. “It basically is constructed with a solution tank containing the silver iodide. That is pressure-fed up through a meter so we know the rate that we are seeding by looking at how much silver iodide we’re allowing to go towards the nozzle and be sprayed into a flame.” The burners are set to have a temperature that’s about 2,400 degrees Fahrenheit, so as the acetone, which is the carrier of the silver iodide, comes up into the flame then it burns and produces that high temperature and then the silver iodide vaporizes in that flame and as soon as it gets into the cold atmosphere of the winter environment it condenses back out to a natural crystal of silver iodide. That crystal is the same size of a natural ice crystal in a cloud system.”
Why mess with the weather?
Weather modification grew out of experiments during World War II that looked at fog particles. From 1947 to 1952, the armed services established Project Cirrus to investigate how this might be incorporated into military applications.
“It was disclosed that between 1951-53 in the Congressional Hearings leading up to the establishment of the Advisory Committee on Weather Control that during the height of cloud seeding activities $3 to $5 million a year was being spent by water users, particularly in the West, for cloud seeding, and that almost 10 percent of the land area of the United States had become the target of cloud seeding attempts,” according to the Special Commission on Weather Modification report to the National Science Foundation in 1965.
Since then, it has continued in various forms worldwide. In December of 2020, CNN reported that China unveiled plans to “drastically expand an experimental weather modification program to cover an area of over 5.5 million square kilometers (2.1 million square miles) —more than 1.5 times the total size of India.”
According to a statement from the State Council, China will have a "developed weather modification system" by 2025, thanks to breakthroughs in fundamental research and key technologies, as well as improvements in "comprehensive prevention against safety risks."
In response to a question about suspicions held by many who oppose this type of operation on grounds that it creates a toxic pollution, Hjermstad said, “our situation for wintertime work is strictly in the lower part of the atmosphere. If there is any pollution at all it would be from the burning of the propane that basically ignites the acetone, which breaks down into water and carbon dioxide, but none of them are toxic fuels.”
Members of the public who may wish to protest the WWC proposal must include their full name, phone number, email address and mailing address. If the protest does not include this information “it may be deemed invalid and not accepted for filing unless the protestant provides an affidavit stating that the it does not have the above listed elements/requirements. Protests may be sent to ATTN: Weather Control Committee, NMISC, P.O.Box 25102, Santa Fe, New Mexico 87504-5102. For questions, call Christina Noftsker (505) 827-4130.