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ND county seeks to end cloud seeding amidst drought

Roger Neshem addresses the Ward County Commission Tuesday, backed by area farmers. Jill Schramm / Minot Daily News

MINOT, N.D.—Ward County farmers unhappy with a weather modification program have persuaded the Ward County Commission to seek a halt to cloud seeding for the rest of the year.

The commission voted 4-0 on Tuesday to ask the Atmospheric Resource Board to suspend operations in the county this season. The board flies the skies of its member counties to deliver chemicals meant to inhibit hail and promote rain.

Darin Langerud, director of the board, said the county's request has been turned over to the board's attorney for review. Ward County State's Attorney Rozanna Larson did not have advice for the county commission, saying she would have to investigate the legality of the county's action.

"We are not asking for a radical thing here. We are asking to join the other 47 counties in the state who do not try to modify their weather," said Roger Neshem of Berthold, spokesman for a room full of cloud-seeding opponents. "If we were to cease operations today, from a monetary standpoint, it does not hurt their operation because they have already collected the funds for this year."

Neshem, who serves by appointment on the county's weather modification authority, said his questions of the authority at a meeting Monday were not well received.

"I was asking, 'What are we getting for spending this money?' The only fact in this whole situation is hail insurance rates in Ward County are higher than area counties," he said. "I think there are some people here today who think they may be doing some accomplishing of the negative sort for the weather patterns here."

One weather modification opponent at the meeting did suggest cloud seeding has aggravated dry conditions.

"We want this thing to be ceased immediately so we have a shot at getting some rainfall," he said.

The Atmospheric Resource Board's literature states cloud seeding suppresses hail but does not eliminate it. It cites research showing a reduction in crop-hail damage by 45 percent. It also lists several independent studies finding rainfall increased in the target counties from 4 to 14 percent, an increase of up to an inch of additional growing season moisture.

Langerud said cloud conditions have offered fewer opportunities for seeding this summer. He said hail suppression efforts also serve to increase rainfall, and both the reduction of hail and increase in rainfall are goals of the program.

Counties participating in the modification program are Bowman, Burke, McKenzie, Mountrail, Ward, Williams and part of Slope.

County Commissioner Alan Walter questioned Ward County's ability to leave the program because its weather modification authority was established by a vote of the people.

County Commissioner John Fjeldahl said the challenge is not to the authorization of the program in the county but to the funding.

"Unless I am wrong, we are not committed to continually fund that. That does not take away their authority to operate, but I doubt they are going to fly without the funding. We are in charge of the funding, as well as the State Water Commission's matching fund," he said.

Last fall, Ward County initially eliminated funding for the weather modification program in this year's budget. The decision would have cut $190,000, or .55 mills from the budget, but the commission later reversed itself and restored the money.