PG&E Uses Cloud Seeding to Bring More Snow to North State

Nov 25, 2013 4:44 PM

Although a good soaking rain last week was a good step in the right direction, the drought situation is still very real. It's on the minds of many across the north state from farmers and ranchers to utility companies, and some are using cloud seeding to help bring more moisture to the area.

For decades, cloud seeding operations have been underway in the Mokelumne Watershed and the Lake Almanor Watershed Basin. It’s a method used by many water and utility companies across the western U.S. "PG&E has been doing cloud seeding for nearly 60 years, both in northern and central California and we do it to help supplement the snowpack which benefits with more hydroelectric power. The other benefits include more water for grazing, for forests, and other uses," explained Paul Moreno, spokesperson for PG&E.

One of the cloud seeding methods is using ground generators like the ones near Lake Almanor. Cloud seeding can also be done by flying planes into the clouds. Both ways are used to disperse silver iodide into the clouds. "The molecular makeup of silver iodide is very similar to things like dust and water that exist in nature, so it kind of fools the cloud to think that this is something that it should form a raindrop on or a snowflake on," explained Bill Rasch, Science and Operations Officer for the National Weather Service in Sacramento.

PG&E has their own team of meteorologists that track the storms and when the temperatures and wind direction are just right, they begin their seeding operations. These operations also benefit our neighbors to the east. "It's not just within our watersheds that we're targeting. These have benefits downstream even more than one hundred miles out. This stimulates additions snowfall. So even into areas like Nevada, it's benefiting (too),” said Moreno.

For years, those against the practice have warned of the negative side effects of adding silver iodide to the atmosphere but officials at PG&E say there's no cause for concern. "We've done studies within our watersheds to look at what's the amount of silver iodide we have within those lakes and streams and it's really no different than lakes and streams that don't have cloud seeding operations because silver iodide is naturally occurring in very small amounts and cloud seeding operations over decades have not really increased that," said Moreno.

With the dry years we've been experiencing, it looks like cloud seeding is here to stay. "This type of methodology is well known (and) it’s well utilized," said Moreno.

Officials at PG&E say they generate about 5% more snowfall over the entire season. Not only are they producing clean renewable energy, it's economical too. The additional hydropower generated far outweighs the cost of cloud seeding.


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