Since 1980, the U.S. has experienced 26 billion-dollar drought events that in aggregate have caused an estimated $250 billion in damages. These economic impacts are severe and widespread, hurting farmers reliant on water supply for their livelihoods, urban communities in arid climates, and downstream ecosystems threatened by water consumption. Drought management is often undertaken too late, as water users continue to pursue short-term economic gains while droughts slowly develop. Managing the impacts of drought will require more coordinated management of human institutions influencing water allocation and demand, and critical reservoir infrastructure designed to modulate supply. This project explores how to build agricultural resilience to changing drought conditions by designing more coordinated operations of reservoir infrastructure conditioned on these seasonal forecasts.

The research fill gaps in integrated drought management by jointly designing forecast conditioned supply-side and demand-side water management strategies in the Upper Colorado River Basin (UCRB). It is expected that understanding users’ shortage distributions would shift if reservoir operations of seven major reservoirs in the full CRB were conditioned on seasonal climate forecasts. Changing operations of these reservoirs could reduce required deliveries from the Upper Colorado sub-basin to meet Lake Powell obligations demanded by a 2019 agreement. Coupling this with economic assessments allow us to answer research questions such as, What are the economic and ecological tradeoffs associated with alternative reservoir operations? Can conditioning operations on seasonal forecasts reduce these tradeoffs compared to historical operations? How well do forecast-conditioned policies generalize to other climate scenarios? Do they reduce vulnerabilities to climate change?