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Living off The Land

Tuesday, May 23, 2000

Trans-Pecos' onion harvest underway

Staff Writer
PECOS, May 23, 2000 -- The Pecos Cantaloupe Company is getting a head start on the competition.

This year the onion crop has come in a week to ten days earlier than previous years.

“It’s been so hot that the onions grew faster,” Sales Department Manager Clay Taylor said.

The drought has obviously not been affected the onion crop.

“We rely on reservoirs for irrigation,” Taylor said.

About 50 workers started clipping the onion crops on Thursday and packing and shipping began on Monday.

About 300 workers will show up once school is out to work in the fields.

“We have high school students work and some people who wait until their kids are out of school,” Taylor said.

All together the Pecos Cantaloupe Company will employ about 500 people.

Taylor said about half of the crew that works in the fields are local employees and all the shed crew is local as well.

Many of the onions are shipped all over the United States.

“We ship mainly in Texas and the east-coast and even Puerto Rico,” Taylor said.  “That’s a long way for a bag of bad breath”.

 Now that shipping has begun it is expected to last about three months, through Aug. 15.

Harvesting of the world-famous Pecos Cantaloupes will begin around July 1 and also run through Aug. 15.

Onions and cantaloupes will be on sale at the Pecos Cantaloupe Company sheds.  Gift boxes can be ordered and shipped as well.

For more information contact the Pecos Cantaloupe Shed, Inc. at (915) 447-6258.

Cloud seeding may be tried again in area

Staff Writer
PECOS, May 23, 2000 -- A rainmaking process that sparked a lawsuit in the 1950s and then went in and out of favor in the 1960s and 1970s could be making a comeback soon in the Trans-Pecos area, thanks to drought conditions that are entering their eighth year in the region.

Cloud seeding, which was first proposed during the area’s last major extended drought in the 1950s, is being studied by officials with the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission for use in Trans-Pecos. Members of the Red Bluff Water Power Control Board are scheduled to be briefed on the proposal during their next meeting on June 12.

According to an article in Texas Water Resources Volume 20 Number 2, published in the summer of 1994, the first attempt to seed clouds in the Trans-Pecos  sparked a lawsuit by ranchers who lived downwind of the Davis Mountains in Jeff Davis County. They sued Southwest Weather Research, Inc., claiming that cloud seeding would lessen the amount of rain that would ordinarily fall on their lands.

Their case went all the way to Texas Supreme Court, which ruled Texans are entitled to the water above their lands as well as that lying below it, and that permitted the cloud seeding to continue.

Cloud seeding in West Texas has a history dating back over 110 years, according to the Texas Water Resources article. The U.S. Department of Agriculture sponsored the original test program in the 1880s, and Post Cereals founder C.W. Post instituted his own rainmaking efforts southeast of Lubbock between 1910 and 1914. In both those tests, explosives were floated up to the clouds either by balloons or kites, and the ensuing explosions were designed to cause rain.

The results were mixed at best, and cloud seeding didn’t really take off again until after World War II, when silver iodide was first tested by researchers with General Electric in Schenectady, N.Y. While the clouds are usually seeded from airplanes under this method, “cloud cannons” can be used to shoot the particles from ground locations into the updraft of the clouds.

Cloud seeding reached its height in the 1960s and early 1970s, but then dropped off as questions were raised about its effectiveness. However, one place where cloud seeding was never discontinued was in the area around Big Spring that makes up the Upper Colorado River Municipal Water District.

“We starting doing this program back in 1971. Our program is 29 years old and there have been only a couple of years in that time we have not done it” said general manager John Grant, who also serves as chairman of the Region F Water Planning Group, which oversees water management plans for 31 counties, stretching from the edge of the Davis Mountains east to Big Spring.

“The object that got it started was we had a good drought going on in the early 1970s and we wanted to see if we could get some rainfall into Lake Spence and Lake J.B. Thomas,” said Grant.

Grant said cloud seeding is done by aircraft between April and October, with a goal of increasing rainfall in the areas around the water district’s reservoirs. The planes drop silver iodide or other particles into updrafts near the base of clouds that pass through Borden, Scurry, Mitchell and parts of Howard and Dawson counties.

“We seed just developing cumulus cloud cells. We introduce particles into the cells, and moisture will accumulate on the particles and they will fall to the ground,” Grant said.

The 1994 article said the project has increased average annual rainfall by 140% (4 inches) in target areas, including Big Spring and Snyder, though Grant last week said the 30-year average is now closer to 20 percent.

“We look before 1971 and after 1971 and compare the rainfall totals in a tight area,” he said. “We’ve seen a little over a 20 percent increase in rainfall over the last 30-year period, compared to the 30 years before we started the program.”

TNRCC officials have looked at the program the Upper Colorado River MWD is involved in, and will talk to Red Bluff members about it next month. The proposal is to seed clouds to produce rain in the Pecos River basin that drains into Red Bluff Lake, which then provides water to farmers in Loving, Reeves, Ward and Pecos counties.

However, in preliminary discussions in March, it was mentioned that there were some problems with the costs for an earlier cloud seeding effort, and that much of the Pecos River basin that drains towards Red Bluff Lake is in New Mexico, which would create a new issue not dealt with in the ruling on the 1959 cloud seeding project.

George Bowmar, who works with the Upper Colorado River MWD for the TNRCC on the cloud seeding project, has talked with officials in New Mexico about joining the program, Red Bluff board members were told during their April meeting.

Grant said since his district began their project in 1971, “The technology has changed and gotten more exact,” on seeding the clouds to produce rain in the target areas. He also said no seeding is done when there is the threat of severe weather, in order to decrease the possibility of producing hailstorms.

He also said that, contrary to the fears of the Jeff Davis County ranchers 41 years ago, “We have actually seen an increase (in rainfall) in the downwind areas were the clouds would drift before dispersal, which resulted in more production.”

But, as Grant also pointed out, while the district can seed clouds, they can’t make create them to begin with. And with humidity levels hovering between 5 and 20 percent for much of the past month, there haven’t been many clouds to work with.

“We’ve been operational since April 1, and there’s been not one cloud within the operational area to seed,” he said. “It doesn’t work in a drought if you don’t have clouds coming through.

“I think when you get the best benefit from cloud seeding is in marginal years when you get clouds coming through once in a while,” said Grant, whose district has been helped in recent weeks by some non-seeded thunderstorms that have formed in the Midland-Odessa area, but have bypassed the Trans-Pecos region.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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