Winter clouds over the Wind River Range bring the promise of snow. A cloud-seeding program is already in place for this range and lawmakers want to spend $1.4 million to start seeding in four other Wyoming ranges. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Members of a state board charged with vetting water development projects are upset legislators have added a $1.4 million cloud-seeding project to a funding bill without their review.

Appointed members of the Wyoming Water Development Commission expressed chagrin during a special telephone meeting Thursday. The citizen commission acts as a recommending body to the Legislature’s Select Water Committee.

But in December, the Select Water Committee inserted cloud seeding into a funding bill after hearing the results of the Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Program. They did so without any recommendation from the citizen commission and against the advice of report authors, who urged a water-commission study first.

Lawmakers also overturned recommendations on other water projects.

”Having a project appear that none of us know anything about – out of the blue, I’m just concerned about that,” water development chairwoman Jeanette Sekan said. “We have a process for a reason.”

Some water development commissioners fear the changes could jeopardize the “Omnibus water bill — construction” scheduled to be considered this session.

“I feel like I’m dealing with a political decision,” commissioner Margo Sabec said at the special meeting. The changes add “a level of uncertainty” to the proposed legislation.

Some elected lawmakers on the Select Water Committee itself already are uncertain about cloud-seeding. Rep. Mike Madden (R-Buffalo) believes people are exaggerating results of a decade-long $14-million pilot program.

Reports that cloud-seeding would increase precipitation by 5 to 15 percent overlook a key caveat, he said. Only some storms are “seedable” events; The 5- to 15-percent increase is possible for about 30 percent of winter storms.

Doubts about cloud seeding

“The actual increase overall is more like 1 percent to 4 percent,” Madden wrote to WyoFile. “I am on the Select Water Committee and I knew that when this info hit the media, it would morph into something other than what the research showed.”

The proposed $1.4 million, “to me, it’s not a good expenditure,” he said in an interview. “Our moisture is what it is. We ought to take the moisture … and make better use of it.”

Others will interpret the results of the Wyoming Weather Modification Pilot Program the way they want to, Madden said.

“The numbers – somebody can get excited about it,” he said. “It isn’t going to have an effect on how green Wyoming is.

“It’s so sketchy, that’s why that range — you can’t say for sure 5 or 15 percent,” Madden said. “They suffer from small sample size. There are relatively few seedable events.”

Cloud-seeding might have some effect in mountains where the pilot program operated, he said. “When you turn it into ‘What’s it going to do for Wyoming, the southeast?’ the answer is zero.”

By the time cloud-seeding runoff reaches a river, there wouldn’t be enough to merit building a dam to hold it, he said. “I could build one in my backyard that could hold the extra water going down the Platte,” Madden said.

Cloud-seeding programs could increase the winter snowpack by provoking additional precipitation from certain storms. The goal is to augment normal spring runoff. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile)

Consultants themselves recommended in their December report that the cloud-seeding project go first to the Water Development Commission. The commission needs to carefully address five components before starting a program, consultants said. Those are barrier (mountain) identification, program design, operational criteria, program evaluation and program management.

“To suddenly move into an operational program — it seemed premature to me,” Water Development Office Director Harry LaBonde told the citizen commission last week. “My schedule was to get these results in December (2014) and probably next year bring a bill.”

Lawmakers supporting cloud seeding are armed with December’s cloud-seeding report on the $14-million study, something the citizen commission did not have when drafting its construction water bill, LaBonde said. The director said he worked with Sen. Curt Meier (R- LaGrange) to ensure the cloud-seeding part of the bill made sense.

As an example, “his proposal did not have permitting costs,” LaBonde said. Other additions LaBonde suggested outlined authority and responsibility, the director said.

Bill targets four ranges

The bill calls for cloud-seeding in the Bighorn, Laramie, Medicine Bow and Sierra Madre mountains.

“This is going to jumpstart weather modification in all four of these ranges,” if the bill passes, LaBonde said. Yet, in the Bighorn Mountains, “we don’t know where to put the generators.”

The construction bill also seeks “funding commitments from other in-basin water users that benefit from winter snowpack augmentation.” Operational funds for seeding in the Wind River Range were already approved by the citizen commission.

In addition to the cloud-seeding project, lawmakers added $2.6 million for rehabilitation of the Bull Lake Dam spillway in the Wind River Indian Reservation. LaBonde’s office had recommended a state contribution to the spillway project, but the citizen commission rejected the plan.

Commission member Karen Budd-Falen had warned her fellow board members at a meeting in November that the Bull Lake money would aid the Midvale Irrigation District, which is embroiled in a lawsuit with some of its member-irrigators.

At issue is whether the district can recoup from members the money it spends on projects, even if those projects are funded in part by the state. “That is a huge problem,” she said Thursday.

Budd-Falen is listed on court documents as an attorney representing some irrigators in the Midvale Irrigation District. In November, she recused herself from voting on Midvale projects.

The Legislature’s Select Water Committee wants to fund rehabilitation of the Bull Lake Dam spillway, even though the Wyoming Water Development Commission did not recommend spending money on the project. The federal government will pay $24 million for the upgrade. (Annika Walters)
The Legislature’s Select Water Committee wants to fund rehabilitation of the Bull Lake Dam spillway, even though the Wyoming Water Development Commission did not recommend spending money on the project. The federal government will pay $24 million for the upgrade. (Annika Walters)

Bull Lake spillway issues deal with safety and come with some $26 million in federal money, LaBonde said. Rehabilitation would aid more irrigators than those tangled up in the suit, he said.

Lawmakers also added $397,338 for University of Wyoming research, some of which seeks to purify discharges from oil and gas operations. The citizen commission did not include that in its recommendation.

University of Wyoming funding would continue research on the school’s patented material designed to purify water produced during oil and gas operations.

Madden said he expects the House funding bill to be assigned to a standing committee, perhaps the House Agriculture, State and Public Lands & Water Committee, before it gets to the House floor. The Select Water Committee has no meetings scheduled for the session, which gets underway today.

The Wyoming Legislature will consider funding a cloud-seeding program that would target four ranges in the state. The goal is to increase runoff, in many instances to boost the amount of water available for irrigation. (Angus M. Thuermer Jr./WyoFile — click to enlarge)

Previous WyoFile stories:

Wyoming dam construction plans advance, December, 2014

Angus M. Thuermer Jr.

Angus M. Thuermer Jr. is the natural resources reporter for WyoFile. He is a veteran Wyoming reporter and editor with more than 35 years experience in Wyoming. Contact him at or (307)...

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