SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KCRA) —The Sacramento Municipal Utility District is using aerial cloud seeding over El Dorado County to coax as much moisture out of passing storms as possible.
The project is run by Weather Modification Inc. of North Dakota, which has several clients in California.
A team of four pilots fly out of McClellan Airpark in Sacramento using three modified Cessna 340 airplanes to do the job.
They’ve had only a handful of opportunities to fly during storms during the current drought.
“We’re just trying to get a much moisture out of the clouds as possible,” said pilot Ken Kovac.
The pilots fly into the tops of clouds looking for temperatures between 5 and 22 degrees, the temperature at which water vapor will form on the particles released by the plane.
Behind each wing are an array of flares which are lit to release billions of silver iodide particles.
The microscopic particles act like crystals to form snowflakes and icy water drops.
SMUD engineers believe cloud seeding works.
“Scientists have done many studies showing anywhere from 3 to 5 to even 10 percent additional precipitation,” said Dudley McFadden, a SMUD energy manager.
The target of the cloud seeding is the Upper American River, where there are eight hydroelectric powerhouses and 11 reservoirs.
“Water is a scarce commodity and that’s our least expensive form of generation for electricity, so anything we can to do benefits SMUD customers,” said McFadden.
The price of addition precipitation can go as high as $3 million, perhaps higher during an extreme drought.
SMUD said that’s money the utility saves by not having to purchase as much replacement power from out of state to compensate for reduced hydro power production.
The pilots are constantly monitoring weather conditions for an opportunity to seed clouds.
“Most pilots, they try to avoid this type of weather but we’re going into it to help out with the drought in California,” said Kovac.
McFadden said everyone benefits because any additional runoff ends up in Folsom Lake.