Complex relationship between seasonal streamflow forecast skill and value in reservoir operations
Abstract. Considerable research effort has recently been directed at improving and operationalising ensemble seasonal streamflow forecasts. Whilst this creates new opportunities for improving the performance of water resources systems, there may also be associated risks. Here, we explore these potential risks by examining the sensitivity of forecast value (improvement in system performance brought about by adopting forecasts) to changes in the forecast skill for a range of hypothetical reservoir designs with contrasting operating objectives. Forecast-informed operations are simulated using rolling horizon, adaptive control and then benchmarked against optimised control rules to assess performance improvements. Results show that there exists a strong relationship between forecast skill and value for systems operated to maintain a target water level. But this relationship breaks down when the reservoir is operated to satisfy a target demand for water; good forecast accuracy does not necessarily translate into performance improvement. We show that the primary cause of this behaviour is the buffering role played by storage in water supply reservoirs, which renders the forecast superfluous for long periods of the operation. System performance depends primarily on forecast accuracy when critical decisions are made – namely during severe drought. As it is not possible to know in advance if a forecast will perform well at such moments, we advocate measuring the consistency of forecast performance, through bootstrap resampling, to indicate potential usefulness in storage operations. Our results highlight the need for sensitivity assessment in value-of-forecast studies involving reservoirs with supply objectives.