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NASA Impacts and Benefits Assessment from Improved Streamflow Forecasts Study Released

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK – RTI International has supported NASA’s Earth Science Applied Sciences Program through a Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Science (ROSES) grant since 2015. One of the program’s objectives is to develop more accurate seasonal water supply forecasts for the upper Colorado River Basin, which affects 25 million people and 3.5 million acres of irrigated land. RTI’s collaboration continues, with the Center for Water Resources recently completing a follow-on study in partnership with the Western Water Assessment Association (WWA) and the University of Colorado (Boulder), building upon a previous RTI forecasting project in the Colorado River Basin.

Streamflow forecasts are essential for water managers, farmers, recreational users, and other stakeholders to make data-driven decisions. The additional study focused on ways to assess the value of improved forecast quality for end-users through satellite data assimilation, ultimately to determine the value from better decisions with improved forecasts.

Using several different approaches, RTI worked closely with two Colorado River basin stakeholders, the Dolores River Conservation District (DWCD) and Denver Water (DW), to assess the value of improved forecast information by:

  1. Applying an online ‘simulation game’ where DW system operators were provided with a range of different forecast information and qualities. Data from the interactive test was used to assess how decisions change, and how metrics improve, with improved forecast skill.
  2. Implementing an interview process with DWCD to qualitatively assess how forecast information is used and how decisions would change with more accurate forecasts.
  3. Developing an optimization study with DWCD using the RTI-Reservoir Optimization with Streamflow Ensembles (ROSE) to assess optimal operation policies given probabilistic ensemble streamflow forecasts.
  4. Performing economic analyses for two categories of end-users, agricultural and recreational, to determine the potential economic value of increased forecast skill.

Several major outcomes resulted from this study, including the realization of significant potential for the agricultural and recreational sectors to benefit from using improved skill forecasts. The study also revealed that, beyond just streamflow forecasts, satellite data sources are central for guiding operators in decision making. View the full report, NASA Impacts and Benefits Assessment from Improved Streamflow Forecasts, to read more about the study procedures and outcomes.

To learn more about RTI’s Center for Water Resources, please visit rti.org/water-management.