Legislation that would appropriate nearly $2 million for a cloud seeding pilot program passed the House Agriculture, Acequias and Water Resources Committee on Tuesday.
Cloud seeding is a process in which aircrafts inject clouds with silver iodide in an effort to make it rain.
Former Texas state meteorologist George Bomar helped get that program going in that state decades ago. He told the committee that the Texas legislature established a cloud seeding program 25 years ago and allocated $15 million toward it over eight years. That matched money raised by local soil and water conservation districts and allowed the state to “essentially cover about a third of the land area of Texas with cloud seeding activities.”
Bomar has also worked in New Mexico with the Roosevelt Soil and Water Conservation District and said there has been limited cloud seeding done in eastern New Mexico.
“During the summertime you have a lot of thunderstorms that are inefficient as rain producers and they would be very amenable to seeding using aircraft dispersing materials such as silver iodide,” Bomar said.
But, while it has been shown to increase rainfall, some people are concerned about the chemicals being released into the atmosphere – although there was some objection taken in the committee to silver iodide being called a chemical as it is naturally occurring. Chemicals can be naturally occurring and are not necessarily harmful. Other chemicals used in cloud seeding operations include potassium iodide and dry ice, which is the solid form of carbon dioxide.
Bomar said that in New Mexico there may be a greater success with salts, or chlorides, than with silver iodide.
Rep. Marian Matthews, D-Albuquerque, apologized for referring to naturally occurring substances as chemicals, but added that there are substances that occur naturally that can be very harmful. She gave uranium as an example.
She first referred to the substances as chemicals when asking a question about impacts to human health and how long people would have to be exposed to the chemicals before negative effects showed up.
Bomar said that there have been studies looking at the impacts of the use of silver iodide in cloud seeding on human and environment health. He cited one published in 2011 that looked at cloud seeding in California using silver iodide. Bomar said this report found no evidence of adverse effects to humans or the environment.
Rep. Anthony Allison, D-Upper Fruitland, said his constituents have expressed concerns about the cloud seeding and oppose the use of taxpayer money to fund such an effort. He said his constituents have expressed concerns that silver iodide and other substances used for cloud seeding can cause problems for aquatic life and are classified as hazardous substances under the Clean Water Act.
But Bomar responded that the study he previously cited shows that the levels of silver iodide showing up in the environment after cloud seeding are below levels that the federal government says are dangerous for human or livestock consumption.
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