Questions about safety, funding and threats to stop a proposed plan to conduct cloud seeding in Northern New Mexico were among issues posed to members of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission and Western Weather Consultants of Durango, Colorado, during a public meeting hosted via webinar Monday (Nov. 22).
The webinar was, in some respects, overshadowed by the commission's regulation that public objections must be received in writing at the agency’s Santa Fe office by 5 p.m. that very day. When asked by a public commenter if the agency might modify the rules a little to accommodate citizens who may object to the plan, but couldn’t make it to the office under the deadline, ISC Deputy Director Hannah Riseley-White said they were “following the rule” and couldn’t change it.
Riseley-White said the ISC is a state agency that is “tasked with ensuring New Mexico’s compliance with our interstate compacts, but also with a number of other duties, including water planning. We’re currently carrying out a 50-year water plan, which is one of Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s key initiatives.”
License still undecided
At stake is a proposal to conduct a cloud-seeding project between December 13, 2021 until March 15, 2022 along the Sangre de Cristo Mountains from Red River to Santa Fe. It is being funded by the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District in Southeast New Mexico, which hired Western Weather Consultants. A Nov. 11 legal notice in the Taos News 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.”
Judging from the more than 150 concerned citizens who dialed into the webinar on Monday, Riseley-White, who is also chair of the newly formed Weather Control Committee, said the ISC would have to take a look at the comments—written and verbal—to determine if additional public comment is warranted before moving forward with the proposal. “We are tasked with reviewing applications for weather modification projects, and that is why we’re facilitating this process here,” she said.
Public comments during the webinar were overwhelmingly critical and decidedly against it altogether.
One man named Stuart Wilde said he was concerned there appeared to be “no non-industry or independent voices on this call … It’s interesting with all the history going back decades that really the results are considered inconclusive, unpredictable, not repeatable, not reliable.” Another man who said he uses water from the area for drinking and household use asked if members of WWC would actually use the water themselves that has been affected by cloud seeding in Colorado.
WWC has been conducting weather modification projects in Colorado for “I think, 20 years,” Christina Noftsker of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission, said in a Nov. 11 Taos News story. “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.”
The state Legislature appropriated funds to the New Mexico Department of Agriculture for a weather modification program earlier this year. That’s how the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District in Portales was given a $55,000 contract, which they used to hire Western Weather Consultants last September.
According to the 2021-2022 RSWCD Program, “seeding can begin Dec. 1, 2021, only after a New Mexico license has been issued,” an outline of the plan states. A decision on that may come during a Dec. 10, 9 a.m., meeting of the ISC, Riseley-White said. “If we feel like it’s warranted we would schedule a public hearing on this application,” she added.
Are the ski areas behind it?
Eric Hjermstad of Western Weather Consultants said in response to questions about whether the project was designed to specifically benefit area ski resorts said the project might bring them snow, but more as a by product of the overall project.
He also made it a point to mention that no aircraft are used to disperse materials for cloud seeding. The WWC will use seven Cloud-seeding Nuclei Generators. These 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. It was this part of the plan that generated the most concern among members of the public participating in Monday’s webinar. Many questioned the reliability of data presented by experts who said the materials dispersed into the sky amounts to little more than harmless dust. One critic called it “tobacco science,” a reference to the tobacco industry’s alleged use of slanted research funded by the industry itself as seen in the 1999 movie “The Insider.”
Have the Pueblos been consulted?
Marquel Musgrave of the Pueblo of Nambe, located north of Santa Fe, said “There was no consultation or consent from the tribal nations impacted by this.”
Beata Tsosie-Peña of Kha'po Owingeh (Santa Clara Pueblo) echoed that statement, adding she was “making this a formal protest” of the project.
Riseley-White said, as of the webinar’s date, no tribal community had been part of the planning or consultation for the project, although she said one did reach out. That one person was a staff member of the Taos Pueblo Department of Natural Resources under the tribe’s War Chief Office.
TPDNR Director Cameron Martinez told the Taos News he directed one of his staff to find out more about the cloud seeding issue. He said this was done as a way to inform tribal government about the project. Martinez said Taos Pueblo possesses a Class I Wilderness Area, one that is considered a pristine environment. From that standpoint, he said the tribe has chosen to make strong statements in the past on the Taos Airport expansion and military overflights. He said he recalled a previous cloud seeding project in the area that was “a hit-or-miss situation.”
Threat to stop the project
“I’m calling on the people of New Mexico and all communities to organize and stop this,” Mike Davis, a well-known Taos activist said during the webinar. “I want to give a warning and an announcement to the company from Colorado that we are going to organize as human beings, as water protectors lawfully, peacefully, and we are going to shut you down, stop you. We’re also demanding the Interstate Stream Commission stop it dead in its track … We do not accept this. We do not consent to this in New Mexico.”
After the webinar, Davis set about organizing a protest rally against the cloud seeding project planned for Saturday (Nov. 27), at noon, in front of World Cup Coffeehouse at the Taos Plaza stoplight. “Bring your signs and banners and drums and all instruments and noisemakers and bull horns and PA systems and whatever you got! This is a peaceful gathering. We need a victory!,” an announcement reads.