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Victoria toys with cloud-seeding technology

Jeff Waters, Friday November 12, 2010 - 09:15 EDT
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Cloud seeding could possibly boost Melbourne's depleted dams - ABC

The Victorian Government is looking into the viability of using cloud seeding to generate man-made rain.

Cloud seeding is achieved by releasing silver iodide into super-cold, water-bearing clouds, either from a plane or from the ground.

But little is known about the long-term environmental effects of the chemicals used to create the rainfall.

Other states are either using or considering the cloud seeding technology to boost water for hydroelectricity.

Dr Steven Siems, a scientist with Monash University, says Victoria has commissioned scientific research into the possibility of creating rain or snow over its drinking water catchments, with a view to possibly boosting Melbourne's depleted dams.

He says he is in the process of finalising his climate modelling study and that he thinks cloud seeding would be a good option for Alpine Victoria.

"They wanted to make sure that the conditions existed not only in Victoria but specifically over the catchments of interest," he said.

Dr Siems says cloud seeding could be used to supplement drinking water.

"The aim is really focused over the Victorian Alps, that would naturally mean potable water," he said.

Dr Siems says he has not seen any evidence to suggest there could be any chemical residue from the material used to seed the clouds.

"I haven't seen any evidence to suggest that there is any danger in the build-up of the material in the drinking water," he said.

Dr Siems also does research for Hydro Tasmania, which has been cloud seeding for about 40 years.

That company's trading services manager, James Pirie, says Victoria has been looking at cloud seeding for at least two years.

He says Hydro Tasmania has not conducted research into residual chemicals.

In New South Wales, the Snowy Hydro company has just published research which says cloud seeding resulted in 14 per cent stronger showers of snow and rain.

It has been welcomed in the Monaro district, for which Primary Industries Minister Steve Whan is the local state member.

"It is proven that it has a positive impact on snowfalls, that it has not had any detrimental impact on down-wind rainfall and also that it hasn't had a detrimental environmental impact," Mr Whan said.

"It is certainly used for town drinking water down the way and of course it is diluted with a lot of other rainfall from around the region but there is no indication that the elements that are used in the cloud seed is having any negative impact."

A spokesman for Victoria's Department of Sustainability and Environment says it cannot comment on the research as the Government is in caretaker mode before the state election.


© ABC 2010

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