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SMUD Preparing For Next Drought With Cloud-Seeding Project

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) —As California dries out from its historic wet winter, the Sacramento Municipal Utility District is already planning for the next drought, with plans to use new ground-to-air cloud-seeding devices called flare trees.

SMUD wants to increase the amount of water that will flow into its reservoirs when the next California drought hits. The utility wants to double the size of its cloud seeding operation.

"We're in a wet period it seems right now, but every year is different so we need to be ready for whatever comes our way," SMUD civil engineer Dudley McFadden said.

McFadden says hydropower is key to decreasing SMUD's reliance on fossil fuels.

Cloud-seeding works when silver iodide particles are sprayed up into a saturated cloud. They act like a nucleus, which attracts super-cooled water vapor, which freezes into ice. Once the ice becomes heavy enough it falls and melts to become rain.

How much more rain exactly has yet to be proven.

"We estimate 3 to 7 percent and I can't be any more precise than that," McFadden said.

There are critics.

"Under certain circumstances, it works but in a marginal way and even then its difficult to prove how much increase has occurred," Center for Climate Sciences Graeme Stephens said.

Despite the unknowns, SMUD is seeking to expand its cloud-seeding ahead of the next drought, planning for the time any extra rain will be welcome.

I would like to have their new cloud seeding flares in place by November, the start of the next rainy season. The publicly-elected board still has to approve the plan.

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