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.
See our Reservoir Series of publications and interactive tools to understand how U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs are performing, and how operations are adapting to changing conditions.