COLBY, Kan. -- Thomas County voters have made it clear that they don't want cloud-seeding planes flying over their homes and fields.
Residents rejected the Kansas Weather Modification Program 1,353-759 in a nonbinding referendum in early November. The results will be forwarded to the Kansas Water Office and reviewed by the governor before a decision is made on whether to include the county in future cloud seeding efforts.
If the vote stands, Thomas County would be the fourth northwest Kansas county to defect from the program. Cheyenne, Rawlins, and Decatur counties decided earlier to withdraw from the program.
Those defections cost the program a $42,000 cut for the 2001 budget, and the agency said in its web page that nonsupport from Thomas County voters would likely reduce state water plan funds by a proportionate amount. If that occurs, the board would have to make up the funds or decide not to conduct next year's program.
The Kansas Weather Modification Program has been fighting an uphill battle to win support since it expanded its flights into northwest Kansas in 1997.
Opponents of the program expressed concern that planes may be redistributing rainfall and hail and that the silver iodide used to seed the clouds is a highly toxic substance that could cause environmental damage.
``I farm with my family,'' said Sherry Barrett, one of the leading opponents of the program. ``I believe it has affected the weather in my area.''
The Kansas Weather Modification Program target area covers 16,000 square m iles, or 10.2 million acres of western Kansas.
Officials with the Northwest Kansas Groundwater Management District in Colby -- the agency which manages the program in northwest Kansas -- declined to comment on the Thomas County election at the request of its board.
``This vote is a nonbinding ballot -- it really doesn't decide a lot,'' said Wayne Bossert, manager for the groundwater management district.
The weather modification program covers Sherman, Thomas, Sheridan, Wallace, Greeley, Wichita, Scott, Lane, Hamilton, Kearny, Finney, Stanton, Grant, Haskell, Gray, Ford, and portions of Graham, Logan and Gove counties. It also includes portions of Cheyenne County, Colo.
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