Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions
Reservoirs
USACE
Project

Reservoirs

The majority of United States reservoirs were constructed when climate was thought to be unchanging and past precipitation and temperatures were reliable for predicting future conditions. Because much of the United States relies on reservoirs for hydropower, water supply, and protection from floods, it is critical to rethink how to manage reservoirs in a changing world.

The Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions developed a series of interactive tools and provided analysis to discern how well the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs currently follow guide curves—the policy for how to manage the flow and storage of water. The ability for these reservoirs to adapt to changes in climate rests solely on the capacity of reservoir managers to alter their guide curve and reallocate reservoir storage to different uses. However, the ability for a reservoir to reallocate water is often politically contested and requires Congressional approval if the percent of storage reallocated is substantial. To that end, the Nicholas Institute is also examining if the current options provide sufficient flexibility to respond quickly to changing climates.

How are U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs performing under changing conditions?

1. Creating Data as a Service for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

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Publication

 

2. A Nationwide Analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir Performance

Visualizing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir Data

Interactive ToolPublication

 

How are environmental and societal conditions changing relative to the time when reservoirs were designed and built?

3. Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 1: National Trends and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Trends Across the Nation

Interactive ToolPublication

 

4. Managing Rivers Under Changing Environmental and Societal Boundary Conditions, Part 2: Expected Compared With Experienced Conditions at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Expected Compared with Experienced Conditions at Nine U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs

Interactive ToolPublication

 

How is the Corps adapting reservoir operations to meet changing conditions?

5. Federal Decentralization and Adaptive Management of Water Resources: Reservoir Reallocation by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

Reservoir operations must respond to changing conditions, such as climate, water demand, regulations, and sedimentation. Corps Districts and Divisions are adapting to changing conditions different. Some rely on reallocations while others rely on discretionary authority and temporary deviations. The differences in response reflect the decentralized decision-making the Corps relies on to respond to disparate condition. However, this can lead to drift from formal management operations, rather than a formal adaptation through reallocation (a resource intensive process). The challenge for any large water resource management agency is to balance between local-level, responsive discretion vs centralized, planned decision-making.