The authors created a computer program that uses long-term forecasts rather than historical records to recalculate when to begin filling and emptying the major storage reservoirs in the Columbia River basin in a warmer climate. They compared historical conditions with a scenario where temperatures are 2 degrees Celsius higher on average than today, a change expected in the Pacific Northwest by the second half of this century.
The simulations suggested water managers could successfully deal with warmer conditions by refilling the system's reservoirs as much as one month earlier in the spring.
"For some locations, due to the reduced snowpack and spring peak flow we don't need to worry as much about the floods during the springtime," said lead author Se-Yeun Lee, who did the work for her doctorate at the UW and is now a UW postdoctoral researcher. "With reduced flood risk we can release less water and refill earlier. As a result we can supply more hydropower in summer and more storage for other needs like fish flows."
The project aims to help regional water managers develop methods to deal with changes in the hydrological cycle.
"In talking to water resource managers, they often feel stymied because currently there are no established analytical procedures that can be used to rebalance their system for a different climate," Hamlet said. "They see the problem, but the tools to deal with the problem are not in place."
It likely will be years before these management practices are formally changed, the authors said, but this study is a first step in that direction.
"We need to develop the tools to be able to handle a changing climate now, so we're not rushing when it becomes a problem," said co-author Stephen Burges, a UW professor of civil and environmental engineering.
|Contact: Hannah Hickey|
University of Washington