Salt Lake City water officials have already begun to milk winter storm clouds for an extra 10 to 15 percent snowfall with 15 area cloud-seeding machines, Public Utilities Director LeRoy Hooton Jr. said Friday.
Cloud-seeding efforts this year could make the difference in producing enough water to get city water users through a second drought season in northern Utah, he said.As a winter storm moved into the area Thursday, the city began its first "full-scale" use of cloud seeders scattered in mountain and valley locations from Bountiful to Alpine, Hooton said.
"The goal was to hit the storm that came through yesterday," he said.
Increased snow fall over the last two days could not be measured Friday, Hooton said. However, two months of cloud seeding last winter produced a 6 percent increase in the snowpack's water content, he said.
"We felt that cloud seeding at 6 percent for that two-month period got 1,200 acre feet of water," he said. At a value of $180 for an acre-foot of water, the city produced $260,000 of water at a cost of $40,000, he said.
Experts estimate that by cloud seeding, the city can increase water content in watershed snow pack by 10 to 15 percent, Hooton said. After two dry seasons, the city can use every bit of water it can get, he said.
"Things are so dry out there . . . that we're going to need much more (water) than normal, perhaps one-and-a-quarter times above normal, just to get back to even," he said.
The $85,000 cloud-seeding program is funded partly with a $10,000 contribution by local ski areas and $12,500 from the state's Department of Water Resources.
Fifteen cloud seeders located to take advantage of traditional storm paths comprise the cloud-seeding system, he said. The machines release silver iodide crystals around which moisture condenses and freezes to form snow.