Skies not only limit for cloud seeding

Permanent cloud seeding over the Snowy Mountains will not lead to the widespread use of the controversial practice across Australia, experts say.

The NSW Parliament this week debated a bill to allow silver iodine to be injected into clouds above a 5000 square kilometre area every winter.

An eight-year trial by Snowy Hydro Limited has created a 14 per cent increase in snowfall over the mountains, with no evidence of environmental damage.

The state government has wholeheartedly endorsed the proposed permanent cloud seeding regime, pointing to a better and longer ski season and more hydro-electricity.

Cloud seeding has also been hailed a potential drought-buster in other parts of NSW, Queensland, Victoria and South Australia.

But Steven Siems, an associate professor at Monash University’s school of mathematic sciences, said Australia’s diverse climate and geography severely restricted an extension of cloud seeding.

“I don’t think we’ll ever see much cloud seeding in Australia other than Tasmania, the Snowy Mountains and Victorian Alps,” he said.

“The last thing you want to be doing is throw your money away on something useless.”

Mr Siems worked on cloud seeding projects at Snowy Hydro and Hydro Tasmania.

Large sections of the community remain deeply uncomfortable with any human manipulation of natural weather patterns, he said.

Residents in western Tasmania have been at loggerheads with Hydro Tasmania, which has sent planes into the air to induce rain 150 times since 2007.

Nearly half West Coast Council’s population live in the target area. Mayor Darryl Gerrity said residents received no benefit from extra rain.

“Anyone who thinks cloud seeding might be good for their area needs to take a look at what has happened down here,” Cr Gerrity said.

“There’s no one here I’ve known who says ‘we should be doing this’ (cloud seeding) because there is just no advantage to us, in fact it’s all disadvantage.

“We have to run heaters and driers more often, the extra rain stuffs our recreational activities and we don’t even get lower electricity bills or any compensation for suffering.”

Cloud seeding has a long and chequered history in Australia, stretching back to the 1940s.

During the late 1950s and early 1960s, the CSIRO performed large trials in the Snowy Mountains, on the York Peninsula in SA, in the New England region of NSW and in an area west of Sydney.

A $6 million cloud seeding experiment in Victoria between 1988 and 1992 produced inconclusive results, however the state government briefly flirted with the idea again in 2010. A trial was also conducted over south-east Queensland between 2007 and 2009.

A spokesman for NSW deputy premier Andrew Stoner today said the government had no current plans to extend the cloud seeding program to other areas.

“The government’s decision to proceed with cloud seeding operations in the Snowy Mountains was made on the basis of world-class research and extensive monitoring by the Natural Resources Commission over an eight-year period, all of which has shown no evidence of adverse environmental impacts,” he said.

The bill is expected to pass later this year.

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