Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
In the United States, our water data infrastructure does not allow us to consistently and quickly answer the most basic questions about our water system’s quantity, quality, and use. The data to answer those questions are often collected but by multiple agencies across different scales and for different purposes, making them difficult to access, to integrate with other data, and to put to further use to support decision making. Even within single agencies, data are often not shared among regional offices, and even if they were, they would have to be standardized to be of use. One huge repository of water data is the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Like many federal agencies, the Army Corps has a federated governance structure whereby each region has its own political authority, management, and data. It is through that governance structure that the Army Corps manages day-to-day operations. These operations, and their relevant data systems, are handled by 36 districts in the conterminous United States. This report describes the challenges and opportunities of integrating districts’ historic reservoir data and management operations. It finds that historic reservoir data are open and accessible for 51 percent of districts. Those data account for 65 percent of reservoirs identified as currently owned and operated by the Army Corps. However, each district uses different data formats, standards, and terms. Data infrastructure investments would be required to enable the data to be used to create additional insights for decision making—for example, to enable the Army Corps to understand how the nation’s reservoirs are responding to various stressors such as climate change, sedimentation, and water demand. Such investments would also help the Army Corps increase the transparency of, and trust in, its reservoir operations. A companion tool to visualize data as well as the data files related to this report are available to view and download. Research by the authors to identify the frequency and magnitude of departures from operational targets of Army Corps-operated reservoirs is presented in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association.
See the Reservoir Series for related publications and interactive tools.