Establishing a Framework for Sharing Risk and Uncertainty Quantification and Communication Strategies in Reclamation Operations

Project ID: 1077
Principal Investigator: James Prairie
Research Topic: Water Operation Models and Decision Support Systems
Funded Fiscal Years: 2009
Keywords: None

Research Question

A common facet among Reclamation operations is that monthly to annual operations outlooks must be developed to support communication with stakeholders on how competing objectives will be satisfied in coming seasons. In several regions, these outlook analyses are deterministic or are based on a few planning scenarios. Stakeholders have become more skilled in understanding uncertainty and are requesting that Reclamation provide more information on outlook uncertainty and risk and convey these uncertainties in an accessible manner.

* How are uncertainty and risks assessed by various Reclamation operations groups in developing operations outlooks (1-month to 2-years)?

* What are common strategies for risk and uncertainty handling and communication, and how can these strategies be shared more broadly within Reclamation?

* How might new developments in the assessment and communication of risk and uncertainty be introduced and evaluated in operational planning settings?

Need and Benefit

Reclamation has several very effective and highly developed means to provide operations outlooks that are being used in multiple basins for a wide range of purposes. These outlooks generally include limited input uncertainty (i.e., a single forecast of the most probable seasonal runoff volume) that is translated to the associated risk planned operations may be different than actual operations. While the outlooks themselves may be technically sound, stakeholders are requesting more information about the risks that planned operations may not match actual operations, whether they stem from water supply assumptions, water demand assumptions, or assumptions about other operational constraints. Reclamation analysts, especially those in hydrology and environmental functions, struggle with using and defending the validity of limited input uncertainty currently in predominant use for operations outlooks.

Several sources of uncertainty in operational decisions were identified at multiple Reclamation offices in a previous scoping effort (Proposal# 9616: Enhancing Project Performance: Integrating Risk, Uncertainty and Risk-Cost-Benefit (RUCB) Procedures into Project Operation and Planning Analyses, 2008). These sources, in order of relative uncertainty contribution, include:

* Runoff forecasting
* Water demand
* Environmental requirements
* Policy uncertainties.

The greatest needs to communicate uncertainty in model results were found at the operational decision level, typically working with a monthly to annual planning horizon.

Stakeholders have requested that Reclamation include a description of the uncertainty inherit in operational outlooks. Uncertainty and risk are presently being handled in various ways throughout Reclamation. It would benefit Reclamation to understand the commonalities among these current strategies, the feasibility of sharing the more common ones more broadly within Reclamation, and the opportunity to enhance input uncertainty and outcome risk assessment and communication. These steps can foster a better relationship with operations stakeholders and thereby helping Reclamation avoid potential conflicts that might interfere with Reclamation's mission to deliver water and generate power in an environmentally and economically efficient manner. A primary goal for this project is to improve communication of risk and uncertainty within and between Reclamation and its stakeholders. Achieving this goal will address stakeholders' requests to improve Reclamation's description of uncertain environmental systems and allow for more informed decisions by stakeholders.

Contributing Partners

Contact the Principal Investigator for information about partners.

Research Products

Not Reviewed

The following documents were not reviewed. Statements made in these documents are those of the authors. The findings have not been verified.

Report on Reclamation Workshop to Review Current Operations Practices - Focus on Communicating Risk, Uncertainty and Incorporating Climate Information (final, PDF, 279KB)
By Carly Jerla, Paul Miller and James Prairie
Report completed on November 17, 2010

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Last Updated: 6/22/20