No Silver Bullet: How Utility Managers Are Using Hydrologic and Weather Forecasts in Extreme Events Planning

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Wednesday, 5 February 2014: 11:15 AM
Room C210 (The Georgia World Congress Center )
Diane VanDe Hei, Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, Washington, DC; and E. M. Brown

Utility managers have long been seeking actionable science and decision support tools including enhanced climatological and hydrological forecasts to assist them in responding to extreme events. Understanding how water utility managers have used climate and precipitation models and hydrologic forecasts in their planning and response to climactic change and extreme events was one of the goals for a set of six workshops hosted by NOAA, EPA, water research organizations and others, between 2012 and 2013. These workshops were hosted across regions representing differing geographies, climate regions, and subsequently, extreme weather events including prolonged drought and flash floods. Despite regional differences, common themes emerged from the synthesis of these workshop discussions.

Two of the themes that are of interest to the climatologic and hydrologic forecasting community are:

1) There is no silver bullet decision-support tool and

2) Communication and collaboration increase accessibility to actionable information.

There is no silver bullet:

Many organizations within and outside of the government continue to develop tools for the water sector. However, because of the place-based nature of water resources planning, forecasts tailored to localized conditions to address specific planning decisions or support operational practices can help ensure the best use of any available forecasts, models and quantitation precipitation forecast (QPF) outputs.

Communication and collaboration increase accessibility to actionable information: because there is no one size fits all decision support tool, utility managers and their staff are educating themselves and becoming better at articulating their specific information and decision support needs. During the extreme event workshops, managers across the country described the need for better forecasts for short-term intense storms and longer-term droughts, particularly at a local level.

Examples from two large metropolitan water utilities (at least one from the southeast) will be provided to illustrate how utilities are improving their ability to communicate with forecasters and modelers about their localized needs to get information and forecasts that are fine-tuned to address their water management challenges. In addition to providing specific examples of how utilities currently use climatological, meteorological and precipitation forecasts and model outputs, examples of how water agencies would use additional tailored information if it were available will also be presented.

By providing these examples, the authors aim to help climate scientists and forecasters better understand the way their outputs will be used in water resources planning and as a result, further advance the collaboration between scientists and water utility managers to obtain actionable information.