What was scheduled to be a town hall style meeting with North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum about the state’s drought situation, turned into concerned citizens voicing their opinions on cloud seeding operations. Residents from all over southwest North Dakota attended the event, including those from Adams, Bowman, Grant, Hettinger, Slope and Stark Counties.
By COLE BENZ
A plethora of state and local representatives were on hand for the meeting, which was held at the Knights of Columbus on Brown Avenue in Mott. A press release issued by the governor’s office said that multiple agencies would be available for questions to farmers and ranchers suffering from the dry conditions, but a majority of the questions surrounded Weather Modifications Inc.’s cloud seeding operations out of Bowman County. Many at the meeting believe that their operations have negatively affected the conditions in Hettinger County.
Witness accounts say they have seen potential storm and rain clouds dissipate after the weather mod planes go up in the air. Some in the crowd believe the storm breakup is a result of the action of cloud seeding.
But North Dakota Atmospheric Resource Board Director Darin Langerud said that the data proves otherwise, even in areas downwind from operating counties.
“Downwind, there’s a slight increase in precipitation downwind from seeding, not a decrease in rainfall,” Langerud said.
Another concerned citizen challenged some of the studies on the cloud seeding operations, quoting the study as saying, “If seeding primarily for rain enhancement within this project has had any effect it has escaped this analysis.”
Langerud didn’t agree or disagree with that statement, but also noted that the study says it has increased rainfall as it relates to hail suppression.
Some of the questions posed to Langerud were hard for him to answer, in part because some of the questions dealt with the issue at hand this season, the drought.
“Looking a snapshot in time, on a program that deals with something that has so much natural variability, which is rainfall in one area versus another,” he said. “This is not a practice that can be evaluated on a day-by-day, month-by-month, or even a year-by-year basis.”
He also cited that this season the Bowman and Slope County crew have logged 88 hours, but only 36 hours of them were spent actually seeding the clouds.
“So 36 hours out of nine weeks of the season so far, the airplanes have spent seeding,” he said. “Fifty-two of those hours, roughly, there was no seeding going on.”
Though you can see the planes’ flight paths on the internet while watching the radar, some members of the crowd the questioned why they can’t create a notification-type system to alert viewers when the planes are actually seeding the clouds.
“You’re saying you can’t give us real-time data on a Facebook page,” said Ben Auch, a Hettinger County resident. “So when the pilot is in the air [and] he flips the switch to let the silver iodide out the back, his radio doesn’t work to radio back to Bowman control to say “Bowman control put it on our Facebook page immediately we are seeding now?””
Another concerned citizen said that cloud seeding isn’t natural progression, “You’re affecting nature,” she said.
Langerud agreed with that comment.
“Yes, we’re attempted to accelerate the rainfall formation process in the clouds sooner than it would naturally,” he said. “That’s what silver iodide does.”
One person raised their hands and asked what they can do as citizens.
“I think it’d be pretty clear as to what the opinion poll would be in this room on the topic,” he said. “What I think would be most useful to us is if we could get some outline of a process or steps put on the ag website or the state website on what we need to do…to get the changes made that they feel they would like to have done on the state or local level.”
Langerud said they can address their local government, and county commissioners.
Jim Schmidt, state representative out of District 31, said that at this point the legislation can’t do anything about cloud seeding.
“Legislatively at this point we have no authority to deal with the funding whatsoever,” Schmidt said. “That lies entirely with the state water commission, and the office of the state engineer.”
The legislation doesn’t specify dollars for cloud seeding. He said it’s all lumped together in general water management.
But he did say that they will look for more information soon.
“As we progress through the interim, we will be asking for presentations from the state engineer and his staff, as to what is the status of weather modification,” he said.
His thought was that if the benefit cost ratio is high, and according to the science it is, then his question is why does the state need to fund it.
Another representative out of District 39, Keith Kempenich, was also on hand. He told the crowd that he is going to call for a performance review, because what they are seeing is that much of the data is dated. He also said that it is a controversial issue, and it always gets more attention in tough times.
“It does become a controversial issue because it’s hard to quantify,” Kempenich said. “You can argue both ways in dry years on if it helps or hinders, and that’s been probably the biggest thing is when it gets into droughts, it gets to be a controversial issue.”
Kempenich’s district covers Bowman County. Residence voted 1,249 to 532 to continue the program.
Another member of the crowd claimed that that vote was skewed, saying that a majority of that vote came from city residents outweighing the population of rural voters. But review of the voting results showed that each of the individual precincts—Bowman City, Bowman Four Seasons, Rhame, and Scranton—supported the continuation of Weather Modification Authority.
Burgum took the microphone as questions came to an end. He recognized the crowds concerns and said he even learned a few things, like how a township can be voted into the program—like in Slope County—but can’t be voted out.
“I’ve learned a few things tonight [that] I did not know about, [like] the buffer counties, and Slope County, I didn’t understand that people could opt in but couldn’t opt out,” he said.
He also reiterated his support for real-time data when the weather modification planes are up in the air.
Burgum also empathized with the crowd, saying that he got the feeling that what the crowd was really concerned about, were things that are out of their control and how it effects them. He said that there may be some governance issues.
“I’m a guy that believes in local control, and I think we’ve got some governance issues here related to buffers or within a county,” Burgum said.
Some of the rules are dictated by state statute, and can’t be changed until a legislative session.
“That’s one of the things, is taking a look at governance statuettes,” Burgum said. “And really look hard and see if we can make some changes.”
Though statuette changes won’t help right now, Burgum encouraged people to submit their comments and concerns until those can be looked at again.