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How reliable is cloud seeding to help reduce Arizona's water woes?

Despite a bounty of snowpack and rainfall this winter, the state still remains in a decades-long drought.

As efforts to conserve the region’s most precious resource continue, agencies like Central Arizona Project fund cloud seeding projects in upper Colorado basin states with the goal of increasing snowpack that will melt into the Colorado River and flow into the Grand Canyon state.

The method relies on airplanes to “inject a compound called silver iodide to aid in the formation of ice crystals. Silver iodide exists naturally in the environment at low concentrations and is not known to be harmful to humans or wildlife,” according to the Desert Research Institute, the nonprofit research arm of the Nevada System of Higher Education.

But the efficacy of such seeding is hard to determine.

“What’s difficult to quantify is just how much moisture comes from when you launch the seeds into the cloud. That’s always been a question — a struggle — in the scientific community simply because it’s just really hard to measure,” according to CAP’s professor Nolie Templeton.

The agency doesn’t yet fund similar programs in Arizona, although Salt River Project is currently exploring the feasibility of doing such. 

On May 5, the Arizona Department of Water Resources and CAP will host a public briefing on the Colorado River water shortage in-person and via live stream from 9 to 11 a.m.

Tom Maxedon was the host of KJZZ’s Weekend Edition from 2017 to 2024.