The reservoir at Lake Mendocino in California has begun utilizing weather monitoring and forecasting data in its operations to prevent the damage done by floods and droughts.
The Weather on Earth is Becoming More Extreme
Global warming, as the name would suggest, creates hotter conditions. It also creates more drastic storms and droughts, and nowhere has this been more apparent than in California, where storms have devastated local communities as much as the historic droughts that have occurred in the past few years.
This has caused the state and federal governments to look for solutions to help the farmers and citizens of California while greater efforts are underway to address the climate crisis. One solution is managing water reservoirs with weather monitoring and forecasts. The US Army Corps of Engineers, as a result of their success in Lake Mendocino, has begun trialling weather monitoring at other reservoirs throughout California.
Why Hasn’t Weather Monitoring been Used Until Now?
There are tens of thousands of dams and reservoirs throughout the United States, and most of these infrastructure projects were created during the 20th century when weather forecast data was unreliable at best. This meant that reservoir operators were limited to using data from snowpack, streamflow, and actual precipitation – water on the ground.
This meant that they could not accurately predict when droughts would occur or storms would blow through, leaving them entirely at the whim of nature when it would come to devastate communities. However, since the 1960s, weather monitoring and forecasting data have come a long way. The ability in some areas to predict when droughts would begin or when storms would come has become significantly more reliable, meaning that reservoir operators could hold on to water when they needed it most or let it go when they knew a storm was about to fill it.
This solution cannot be implemented everywhere, though. In some areas, such as the Midwest, weather forecasts are still difficult to predict by the nature of the landscape. However, in areas like California, where atmospheric rivers meeting the mountains largely determines weather conditions, weather forecasting is reliable, meaning reservoir operators can use this information to determine the best way forward in their operations.
Lake Mendocino Reservoir is the only location where this solution is utilized, but the results have been promising. Nearly 20% of the water stored has been saved because of the use of weather forecasting, meaning that thirsty farmers and people have the water when they need it. A retrospective study found that between 1985 and 2010, the reservoir could have saved 33% of the water stored at the end of the flood season.
The Benefits are Enormous
However, location truly is everything with these changes. While saving water for when the citizens really need it is truly important, some reservoirs aren’t built to release water like they can at Lake Mendocino. Others don’t have the weather monitoring tools to predict when the storms will pass through or when the droughts will come.
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However, hundreds of reservoirs could potentially hold more water and reduce flood risk by watching and monitoring the weather. Taking serious steps to help people in the short term is crucial, as droughts and storms can kill many people, hindering progress and crippling morale toward the transition to a safer, greener world.