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Development of Forecast and Decision Calendars to Facilitate Improved Forecast Applications by Reclamation Decisionmakers

Project ID: 1381
Principal Investigator: Ian Ferguson
Research Topic: Water Supply Forecasting
Priority Area Assignments: 2012 (Climate Change and Variability Research)
Funded Fiscal Years: 2012
Keywords: climate change mitigation, water supply forecast, forecast applications

Research Question

Climate change is likely to decrease surface water and ground water supplies throughout the West. Strategies to increase efficiency of existing water operations are a cost-effective means to mitigate climate change impacts on water resources; improved use of weather, climate, and hydrologic forecasts is one such strategy. The objective of this research is to identify opportunities and constraints for improved use of forecasts in Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) decision practices. This project will develop detailed decision and forecast calendars to address the following research questions:

(1) What Reclamation decisions have time horizons of 90 days, when are these decisions made (date or trigger point and recurrence interval), and what information are these decisions currently based on, including forecast information?

(2) What forecast information is currently available from operational or experimental forecast products, tools, and methods on each of these time horizons, including forecast date, target period and area, target variable, forecast skill (retrospective or hindcast), and type of forecast information (deterministic vs. probabilistic; categorical vs. continuous).

(3) What are the most promising opportunities for integrating forecast information into Reclamation decision practices, including development of decision-specific forecast products or adaptation of current decision practices to incorporate available forecast information?

This project complements Reclamation efforts to improve streamflow and water supply forecasts and their application to reservoir operations as well as recent efforts to improve assessment and communication of risk and uncertainty in operation outlooks. This project also complements the "STdoc," currently under development, by providing more detailed information on a range of specific decision practices and assessing opportunities for improving the use of forecasts in these decisions.

Need and Benefit

Climate change will have significant impacts on both short-term water operations and long-term water resources planning. Recent research concludes that climate change is likely to decrease surface water and ground water supplies throughout the West, exacerbating competition among water users and jeopardizing the sustainability of current agricultural, municipal, and industrial water use practices and hydropower production. At the same time, other studies suggest that climate change will increase precipitation intensity and increase potential for rain-on-snow events, both of which bear significant implications for flood control operations. Weather, climate, and hydrologic forecasts have the potential to significantly improve Reclamation operations for water supply, flood control, and hydropower generation. Improved application of forecast information by Reclamation decisionmakers is therefore a cost-effective strategy to mitigate the effects of climate change by improving system operations.

Research by Reclamation and other agency and university researchers continues to improve forecast skill and lead time. Despite these advances, however, state-of-the-art forecast information is not widely or consistently applied by Reclamation decisionmakers. This project will identify opportunities and constraints to application of forecast information in a broad sample of Reclamation decisions throughout all five regions. Results of this research will guide future efforts to develop improved forecast methods, improve communication of forecasts and associated risk and uncertainty, and integrate forecast information into Reclamation decision practices.

This research builds on previous efforts to improve short- and long-lead forecasts of streamflow and water supply (S+T Projects 847, 925, 1142, 2601, 6912, 709, and other efforts) and to improve forecast applications in reservoir operation decisions (S+T Projects 7523, 9912, and other efforts). This project will also address general recommendations in the recent Report on Reclamation Workshop to Review Current Operations Practices: Focus on Communicating Risk, Uncertainty, and Incorporating Climate Information (S+T Project 1077) to incorporate improved forecasts into Reclamation operation decisions, including information on forecast uncertainty and associated risks. This recent report identifies broad gaps in the use of forecast information in operations, but does not address the needs of individual decisionmakers or specific operations decisions; the proposed research will assess opportunities to improve forecast applications in a diverse sample of specific decisions, including assessing and communicating risk and uncertainty. This research similarly complements the "STdoc," currently under development, by providing more detailed information on specific decisions and opportunities to expand and improve the use of forecast information.

Contributing Partners


Research Products

Research products will include a forecast calendars relevant to Reclamation operations throughout the West and decision calendars for a diverse sample of specific decisions from across all five Reclamation regions. A report will be produced providing the calendars, along with a detail discussion of decision practices and identification of promising opportunities for future improvements in forecast applications. Lastly, this effort will be used to guide a FY2013 S+T proposal to pursue decision-specific forecast development and application for promising decision contexts.

This information was last updated on January 31, 2015
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