Articles | Volume 21, issue 9
Research article
21 Sep 2017
Research article |  | 21 Sep 2017

Evaluation of model-based seasonal streamflow and water allocation forecasts for the Elqui Valley, Chile

Justin Delorit, Edmundo Cristian Gonzalez Ortuya, and Paul Block

Abstract. In many semi-arid regions, multisectoral demands often stress available water supplies. Such is the case in the Elqui River valley of northern Chile, which draws on a limited-capacity reservoir to allocate 25 000 water rights. Delayed infrastructure investment forces water managers to address demand-based allocation strategies, particularly in dry years, which are realized through reductions in the volume associated with each water right. Skillful season-ahead streamflow forecasts have the potential to inform managers with an indication of future conditions to guide reservoir allocations. This work evaluates season-ahead statistical prediction models of October–January (growing season) streamflow at multiple lead times associated with manager and user decision points, and links predictions with a reservoir allocation tool. Skillful results (streamflow forecasts outperform climatology) are produced for short lead times (1 September: ranked probability skill score (RPSS) of 0.31, categorical hit skill score of 61 %). At longer lead times, climatological skill exceeds forecast skill due to fewer observations of precipitation. However, coupling the 1 September statistical forecast model with a sea surface temperature phase and strength statistical model allows for equally skillful categorical streamflow forecasts to be produced for a 1 May lead, triggered for 60 % of years (1950–2015), suggesting forecasts need not be strictly deterministic to be useful for water rights holders. An early (1 May) categorical indication of expected conditions is reinforced with a deterministic forecast (1 September) as more observations of local variables become available. The reservoir allocation model is skillful at the 1 September lead (categorical hit skill score of 53 %); skill improves to 79 % when categorical allocation prediction certainty exceeds 80 %. This result implies that allocation efficiency may improve when forecasts are integrated into reservoir decision frameworks. The methods applied here advance the understanding of the mechanisms and timing responsible for moisture transport to the Elqui Valley and provide a unique application of streamflow forecasting in the prediction of water right allocations.

Short summary
This work provides forecasts of water supply for the semi-arid Elqui River Valley, Chile, at periods prior to the October–January growing season. Forecasts are constructed provide water rights holders, whose allocations are subject to annual change, with an advanced indication of expected allocations. Forecasts, based on global and local indicators, are best suited to provide an initial indication of allocation category (above, near, or below normal) in May and are quantified in September.