Combining Physically Based Snow Modeling and Remote Sensing at High Spatial Resolution to Improve Snowmelt Runoff Forecasts in the Big Thompson and Willow Creek Basins

Project ID: 21041
Principal Investigator: Claudia Salazar
Research Topic: Water Supply Forecasting
Funded Fiscal Years: 2021 and 2022
Keywords: None

Research Question

Runoff from the Big Thompson River and Willow Creek Basins in Colorado is typically dominated by snowmelt during the spring and early summer months. Existing runoff forecasts rely on modeled daily estimates of snow water equivalent (SWE) across the basins, and inaccurate SWE estimates can significantly reduce the accuracy of runoff forecasts. SWE estimates currently generated for the Big Thompson River and Willow Creek basins are available only at coarse spatial resolution (1 km) and frequently underestimate SWE, particularly in the late spring and early summer months when the remaining snowpack in the basins is distributed across a matrix of deep snow patches interspersed with snow-free ground across the high elevation alpine zone.
This project will enable ECAO and Northern to improve inflow forecasting to Lake Estes and Willow Creek reservoirs benefiting reservoir operations, water deliveries, hydropower production, balance of supply and demand, and other water management objectives. C-BT project users depend on these forecasts and available project water to plan operations.

Need and Benefit

This project was discussed with the research coordinator to identify potential overlapping and collaboration with other efforts. Some current projects include remote sensing of snow cover at low elevations, flood prediction, evaluation of energy balance model parameters to improve runoff forecasting, and comparison of Airborne Snow Observatory (ASO) with other approaches for estimating snow cover. None of the existing projects have a scope similar to this current proposal.

Contributing Partners

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Research Products

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Last Updated: 6/22/20