Due to budget shortfalls, Vail Resorts has pulled this winter’s funding for its cloud seeding program — the longest-running in the state at 44 years — potentially reducing the amount of water flowing down the Colorado River this spring.
According to a November report from Colorado Water Conservation Board Director Rebecca Mitchell, due to economic challenges associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, Vail Resorts was forced to suspend all funding for cloud seeding for the 2020-21 season. This has resulted in a $300,000 loss of funding for cloud seeding activities over the central Rocky Mountains.
While this is bad news for skiers, it also means a challenge for western water managers who count on cloud seeding to increase water supplies by increasing snowfall in the mountainous headwaters of the Colorado River and its tributaries. While ski resorts tend to focus their cloud seeding on increasing early-season snow, water managers tend to choose the best storms throughout the season and boost those.
According to Mitchell’s report, the loss of Vail’s cloud seeding program severely reduces the ability to augment and increase water supplies.
“This recent decision has put managers of the CCMRB in a very difficult position as they endeavor to meet the needs of drought recovery,” Mitchell’s report reads.
Vail Resorts did not respond to requests for comment.
CCMRB stands for the Central Colorado Mountain River Basin Program, one of six weather modification program areas in Colorado. This program is run by the Colorado River Water Conservation District and covers Grand, Summit, Eagle and Pitkin counties. Vail Resorts’ program is separate from the CCMRB program, but within the CCMRB’s permit area, and focuses on Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts.
‘A significant loss’
Cloud seeding uses a network of ground-based generators throughout the permit area to disperse silver iodide particles into clouds, where ice crystals form on them and fall to the ground as snow. Colorado ski areas and water managers on both the Western Slope and Front Range have been using cloud seeding for decades to enhance snowpack and streamflows. The cloud seed generators in the CCMRB area are operated by Durango-based Western Weather Consultants.
Water managers see cloud seeding as an important tool for increasing water supply in times of drought. A study released earlier this year proved that cloud seeding can boost snowfall across a wide area under the right conditions. Weather modification programs were one of the elements included in the Drought Contingency Plan, signed by the Colorado River basin states in 2018.
“It’s one of the few ways to physically…