Publications

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

Reservoirs are critical infrastructure typically built to function as designed for 50 to 100 years. The majority of U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoirs are more than 50 years old. The environmental, societal, and regulatory conditions surrounding the reservoir, that is, the reservoir's expected conditions, shaped its design. Many of these expectations assumed a future similar to the past. However, recent decades have experienced warming climates, cyclical changes in precipitation, the introduction of new regulations, and populations concentrating in urban environments.

Reaching Watershed Scale Through Cooperation and Integration

"Reaching Watershed Scale Through Cooperation and Integration" summarizes the Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum discussions of May-June 2018. The forum explored how integration could address the mismatch between what has traditionally been local solutions for local water issues and emerging water challenges that impact large geographic regions, multiple sectors, and different community functions. Integration is intended to synergistically combine efforts and resources to create benefits that could not have been individually achieved. The forum explored the opportunities and challenges to integration within and between water sectors, identifying common elements for success.

A Spatially-Resolved Inventory Analysis of the Water Consumed by the Coal-to-Gas Transition of Pennsylvania

In the Journal of Cleaner Production, the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions Lauren Patterson and her co-authors look at changes in water consumption related to transitions from coal to natural gas in Pennsylvania from 2009 to 2012. The study provides the first comprehensive representation of changing water consumption patterns associated with the state’s coal-to-gas transition at a watershed level for both extraction of the resources to the generation of electricity with coal and natural gas.

Water Stress from High-Volume Hydraulic Fracturing Potentially Threatens Aquatic Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services in Arkansas, United States

Demand for high-volume, short duration water withdrawals could create water stress to aquatic organisms in the Fayetteville Shale streams of Arkansas sourced for hydraulic fracturing fluids this article in the journal Environmental Science and Technology suggests. Authors estimate potential water stress using permitted water withdrawal volumes and actual water withdrawals compared to monthly median, low, and high streamflows. Findings indicate that freshwater usage for hydraulic fracturing could potentially affect aquatic organisms in 7-51 percent of the catchments depending on the month. If 100 percent of wastewater was recycled, the potential impact drops. Authors suggest that improved monitoring and access to water withdrawal and streamflow data are needed to ensure protection of streams not only as sources of drinking water, but aquatic habitats.

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.

The Future of Groundwater

The Future of Groundwater summarizes the Aspen-Nicholas Water Forum discussions of May-June 2017, offering various approaches to groundwater sustainability. A partnership between The Aspen Institute Energy and Environment Program and the Nicholas Institute for Environmental Policy Solutions at Duke University, the forum focused on exploring the present condition of groundwater, the evolution of that condition, and opportunities for transitioning to more sustainable uses of groundwater resources. The consensus was that groundwater needs to be sustainably developed, meaning groundwater use must be balanced among economic development, environmental health, and quality-of-life needs in a way that allows our children and grandchildren to enjoy.

Data and Modeling Infrastructure for National Integration of Ecosystem Services into Decision Making: Expert Summaries

Resource managers face increasingly complex decisions as they attempt to manage for the long-term sustainability and the health of natural resources. Incorporating ecosystem services into decision processes provides a means for increasing public engagement and generating more transparent consideration of tradeoffs that may help to garner participation and buy-in from communities and avoid unintended consequences. A 2015 White House memorandum from the Council on Environmental Quality, Office of Management and Budget, and Office of Science Technology and Policy acknowledged these benefits and asked all federal agencies to incorporate ecosystem services into their decision making. This working paper, expanded since its initial publication in November 2016, describes the ecological and social data and models available for quantifying the production and value of many ecosystem services across the United States. To achieve nationwide inclusion of ecosystem services, federal agencies will need to continue to build out and provide support for this essential informational infrastructure.

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.