Publications

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

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. This report describes the challenges and opportunities of integrating U.S. Army Corps of Engineers 36 districts’ historic reservoir data and management 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

A Nationwide Analysis of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoir Performance in Meeting Operational Targets

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operates reservoirs across the United States. Most (89 percent) of the reservoirs were constructed prior to 1980, and many have experienced changes in environmental conditions such as climate and sediment yield and societal conditions such as water and energy demand. These changes may challenge the potential for reservoirs to meet their operational targets and management goals. To identify the frequency and magnitude of departures from operational targets, this analysis published in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association collected Army Corps reservoir targets and historic daily reservoir data for 233 reservoirs. This work provides a framework to identify reservoir performance in relation to management goals, a necessary step for moving toward adaptive management under changing conditions. Individual reservoir analyses are accessible through an interactive data visualization tool. Companion research by the authors on Army Corps-operated reservoirs is presented in the report, Creating Data as a Service for U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Reservoirs.

Estimating the Value of Public Water Data

Public water data, such as river flow from stream gauges or precipitation from weather satellites, produce broad benefits at a cost to the general public. This paper presents a review of the academic literature on the costs and benefits of government investments in public water data. On the basis of 21 studies quantifying the costs and benefits of public water quantity data, it appears that the median benefit-cost ratio across different economic sectors and geographic regions is 4:1. But a great deal of uncertainty attends this number; very few studies empirically quantify or monetize the costs, the benefits, or both of water information with sound economic methods, and no studies have quantified the value of water quality information. This review is part of an ongoing effort by the Nicholas Institute of Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University and the Aspen Institute to develop the foundations of an Internet of Water by quantifying the potential value of open and integrated public water data.

Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability

This report from the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data lays out a vision for a national policy framework that addresses institutional barriers to increasing integration of water data and information to support sustainable water management. In the United States, data to manage water supplies and pursue innovative solutions to meet water management challenges are lacking or are not in a format that is easily accessible or understandable, and there are often strong disincentives, fears, and concerns about sharing the data. To address this challenge, the Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program in partnership with the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions and Redstone Strategy Group convened the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series on Water Data. The report highlights the dialogue’s principle-based blueprint recommending a three-step plan to design and launch an “Internet of Water”—a network of interconnected data producers, hubs, and users—that will enable real-time collection and transmission of water-related data and information. 

Making Sure the Blue Economy is Green

Given the growing and seemingly limitless capacity to industrialize the oceans, there is a need to reimagine how to effectively measure, monitor and sustainably manage this seventy-one percent of the Earth's surface. In a commentary for the journal Nature Ecology and Evolution, the Nicholas Institute's John Virdin and co-authors write that we are now at an inflection point in history, where we no longer look to the ocean solely for protein and waterways, but also as a source for many more aspects of our increasingly industrialized society. While much of our focus has been terrestrially based where impacts are easier to identify, the authors write, greater attention is needed on the industrialization of our oceans, which have long been considered as a source of inexhaustible resources and reservoirs for unwanted terrestrially generated waste.

Evaluating Flow Metric-Based Stream Classification Systems to Support the Determination of Ecological Flows in North Carolina

Streamflow is a main determinant of the ecological health of rivers and streams. Assignment of streams to classes is suggested as an initial step in the process of establishing ecological flow standards that ensure the appropriate environmental objectives are achieved. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association evaluated a hydrological model with two distinct hydroecological river classification systems of stream classes in North Carolina and found that stream classification was inconsistent between all three models and highly dependent on the period of record of the underlying data. Based on these results, it was surmised that classification systems based on streamflow metrics are not a reliable approach for guiding ecological flow determinations.

Fish and Invertebrate Flow-Biology Relationships to Support the Determination of Ecological Flows for North Carolina

Following recent droughts in North Carolina, the General Assembly convened an Ecological Flows Science Advisory Board to develop a strategy for establishing flow regimes that could protect the ecological integrity in the streams and rivers of North Carolina. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association describes the method developed to characterize fish and invertebrate responses to flow alterations in the state of North Carolina to aid in setting ecologically sensitive flows that achieve appropriate environmental objectives.

Flow-Biology Relationships Based on Fish Habitat Guilds in North Carolina

The health of freshwater animal and plant life is dependent on streamflow, yet identification of the flow regimes required to maintain ecological integrity remains challenging to states in the U.S. seeking to establish ecological flows that achieve environmental objectives. A new article in the Journal of the American Water Resources Association tests the relationship between decreases in streamflow and Shannon-Weaver diversity index of fish species for four flow-based habitat guilds: riffle, riffle-run, pool-run, and pool in North Carolina. The study finds that species who prefer shallow habitats, such as riffles and riffle-runs were the most sensitive to decreases in streamflow, while using all fish data greatly underestimated the response of fish species to decreases in flow. Since ecological flows are designed to protect the integrity and diversity of aquatic ecosystems, ecological flows should be established to protect those species most sensitive to changes in flow.

Reservoir Sedimentation and Storage Capacity in the United States: Management Needs for the 21st Century

The United States federal government invested significant resources to build dams in the mid-twentieth century to increase water storage capacity nationwide; while only 5% of the dams in the United States are federally owned, they account for 61% of the total national storage capacity. Society is increasingly dependent on reservoir storage capacity due to increased water demand, increased population growth on floodplains protected by flood control dams, or increased demand on hydropower as a critical part of the electricity grid. Simultaneously, reservoir sedimentation diminishes storage capacity. Thus, there is a persistent chronic loss of the very resource upon which many aspects of modern society depend. Not measuring, assessing, and managing this resource undervalues it, and also perpetuates ignorance of threats to existing beneficiaries as well as obscuring opportunities for additional benefits. In order to most efficiently use the nation’s increasingly scarce reservoir storage capacity, the authors propose three modest actions for the hydraulic engineering community in the Journal of Hydraulic Engineering: expand nationwide reservoir sedementation surveys, supplement RESSED with initial planned sedimentation rates, and share responsibility for building reservoir sedimentation knowledge.

Paper: B. Everett Jordan Dam Sedimentation Rates and Reservoir Capacity

This paper provides a detailed report on major findings for B. Everett Jordan Dam within the context of all North Carolina reservoirs. While the majority of attention surrounds the ongoing assessment of water quality and nutrient management within Jordan Lake reservoir, our research on sedimentation rates can help uncover whether remaining sedimentation deposits pose an issue of capacity that should also be considered more actively as part of a broader water protection context.