By Andrew Hay
TAOS, N.M. (Reuters) - A plan to seed the clouds over the mountains of New Mexico to increase snowfall during a historic drought was pulled this week after accusations it could poison people and the environment.
Western Weather Consultants (WWC) of Durango, Colorado proposed siting machines near five ski resorts in the Sangre de Cristo Mountains to pump silver iodide vapor into the atmosphere and increase ice crystals and snow. A state agency said WWC this week withdrew its application to deploy the 75-year-old technology that is being widely used to fight extreme drought affecting half the western United States.
WWC did not respond to requests for comment.
Cloud seeding seeks to increase precipitation by adding small particles to the clouds that water droplets form around. These turn into snowflakes and raindrops.
The WWC plan, which would have been paid for with state funds, got preliminary state approval, according to an October state filing.
During a public webinar on Monday, officials for WWC, which provides cloud seeding for Vail and Beaver Creek ski resorts in Colorado among other clients, said the technology was an effective way to boost snowfall and studies showed no negative effects on flora and fauna.
The company said then that the five ski areas in the New Mexico target area were not participating in the project.
Well over half of public comments on the webinar opposed the plan. Callers said silver was a toxic heavy metal that could get into groundwater and the soil.
"The solutions are to stop the destruction which causes us to not have rain and water, not to increase further destruction and further manipulation," said Marquel Musgrave, a member of the Nambe Pueblo Native American community.
WWC withdrew its application the next day, according to a statement by the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission.
"The reason they gave was the timeline was pushed back too far for adequate time for the program,” ISC Deputy Director Hannah Risely-White told the Santa Fe New Mexican.
New Mexico resident Mike Davis, who helped lead opposition to cloud seeding, called WWC's withdrawal a victory.
Researchers point to human-caused climate change as intensifying the most severe drought on record in the southwestern United States.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)