Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations

CW3E links research, applications, and codified operational procedures to enable multipurpose reservoir operators to use the best available science to inform their actions and maximize co-benefits.

Key Objectives:

Members of the Prado Dam FIRO steering committee.

  1. Facilitate the update of Water Control Manuals for Lake Mendocino, Prado Dam, Lake Oroville, and New Bullards Bar Resevoir.
  2. Design tools and resources that ensure FIRO transferability to other reservoirs.
  3. Conduct screening-level assessments of 6 reservoirs and select two additional reservoirs for full viability assessments.
  4. Develop an adaptive management framework for Water Control Plans that allows for ready integration of improved forecast skill (and/or improvements in how forecast skill is leveraged) avoiding the need for costly WCM updates.

Challenges and Solutions:

Storage and controlled distribution of water are essential to life as we know it. Dams and reservoirs mitigate the impacts of flood events; generate renewable power; and adjust the timing of water availability when needed for agricultural, municipal, or other purposes. Without dams, the West could only support a small fraction of the population and agriculture that exist today.

Dam construction in the United States peaked more than 50 years ago, at a time when skill in weather and water forecasting was limited. Thus, the procedures used to develop operating rules for flood control reservoirs appropriately relied on observations (“water on the ground”) and the likelihood of future precipitation based on technology available at the time. These procedures are codified in Water Control Manuals, which water managers are largely compelled to use.

Since then, investments in research, modeling, observations, monitoring, and technology have improved skill in weather and streamflow forecasting. Forecasts have shown significant improvement along the West Coast. Understanding ARs is key to accurately predicting precipitation and flooding, as extreme ARs cause most major floods along the West Coast.

FIRO is a collaborative process in which stakeholders (e.g., operating agencies, resource managers, researchers) leverage the most up-to-date weather and water forecasts to improve operational reservoir management decision-making. By investing in monitoring and research, and applying modern modeling and forecasting tools, collaborators can improve reservoir management and optimize multiple management outcomes now and in the future.

Key Results:

  • USACE approved the second Major Deviation request submitted by the Lake Mendocino Steering Committee; the Final Viability Assessment is underway.
  • The Prado Dam FIRO work plan has been completed and the Preliminary Viability Assessment is underway.
  • A FIRO Steering Committee has been formed for Lake Orville and New Bullards Bar Reservoir in the Feather and Yuba Watersheds, and the work plan is underway.
  • CW3E is working with Sonoma Water, the Bureau of Reclamation and ERG to develop a methodology to assess the economic benefits of FIRO.

For more information about Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations, visit the FIRO website.