Water Resources Engineering (WRE) connects engineering hydrology and hydraulics with global, economic, environmental, and societal issues. Our student Bill Finch makes this connection here…

The article Western Utility Seeds Clouds to Boost Size of Snowpack, by Tim Newcomb of Engineering News-Record on January 14, explains how Idaho Power is using the innovative approach of cloud seeding to increase snowpack. The company relies on snowmelt for its hydropower facilities. The news relates to the WRE domain of hydrology and the specific issue of distribution and movement of water, but also positive economic impacts, without negatively affecting the environment.


Figure 1 – One of Idaho Power’s 36 remotely operated ground-seeding sites.

Cloud seeding has been around since the 1940s, and was in fact discovered not far from Syracuse, at the General Electric laboratories in Schenectady, NY (Cole, 2005). The process has recently been implemented by Idaho Power, who depends on water supplied by snowmelt for its hydroelectric operations. The article explains, “Cloud seeding involves injecting silver iodine into supercool liquid portions of a cloud, says engineer Shawn Parkinson.” The particles then form into ice crystals and fall to the ground, like natural snow. The injection is performed primarily by two methods –by planes or by ground generation units, which Idaho Power currently employs (Figure 1).

Idaho Power has been using cloud seeding for about a decade now, and after seeing the results, they have decided to expand the program. What they have seen is a 5% to 15% increase in snowpack, with recent annual returns around 13%. The increase in snowpack results in 200,000 additional acre-feet of water for their three-dam Hells Canyon complex annually. That’s enough to generate enough power for roughly 7,900 homes. Right now, the economic return is about 2:1, but they expect returns of closer to 5:1 when they’re not doing so much research. Other studies have noted even greater returns on winter cloud seeding, on the order of 10:1 (Griffith 2002) In regards to the environmental impact of cloud seeding, the article says. “Studies have found that the trace amounts of silver iodine-measured in parts per trillion-have no effect on the environment.” 



Stephen Cole, “Weather on Demand,” American Heritage, 2005. http://www.chymist.com/Weather%20on%20Demand.pdf

Griffith, D. A., & Solak, M. E. (2002). Economic Feasibility Assessment of Winter Cloud Seeding in the Boise River Drainage, Idaho. Journal of Weather Modification34, 39-46. Retrieved February 16, 2012, from http://www.nawcinc.com/Boise_feasibility.p

Newcomb, Tim. (2013). Western Utility Seeds Clouds To Boost Size of Snowpack. Engineering News-Record, Retrieved from http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic