19 Sep 2023
 | 19 Sep 2023
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal HESS.

Synthesis of Historical Reservoir Operations from 1980 – 2020 for the Evaluation of Reservoir Representation in Large Scale Hydrologic Models

Jennie C. Steyaert and Laura E. Condon

Abstract. All major river systems in the Contiguous United States (and many in the world) are impacted by dams, yet reservoir operations remain difficult to quantify and model due to lack of data. Reservoir operation data is often inaccessible or distributed across many local operating agencies making the acquisition and processing of data records quite time consuming. As a result, large scale models often rely on simple parameterizations for assumed reservoir operations and have very limited ability to evaluate how well these approaches match actual historical operations. Here, we use the first national dataset of historical reservoir operations in CONUS, ResOpsUS, to analyse reservoir storage trends and operations in more than 600 major reservoirs across the US. Our results show clear regional differences in reservoir operations. In the eastern US, which is dominated by flood control storage, we see storage peaks in the winter months with sharper decreases in operational range (i.e., the difference between monthly max and min storage) in the summer. While in the more arid western US where storage is predominantly for irrigation, we find that storage peaks during the spring and summer with increases in the operational range during the summer months. The Lower Colorado region is an outlier because its seasonal storage dynamics more closely mirrored that of flood control basins, yet the region is classified as arid, and most reservoirs have irrigation uses. Consistent with previous studies we show that average annual reservoir storage has decreased over the past 40 years, although our analyses show a much smaller decrease than previous work. The reservoir operation characterizations presented here can be used directly for development or evaluation of reservoir parameterizations in large scale models. We also evaluate how well historical operations match common assumptions that are often applied in large scale reservoir parameterizations. For example, we find that 100 dams have maximum storage values greater than the reported reservoir capacity from the Global Reservoirs and Dams database (GRanD). Finally, show that operational ranges have been increasing over time in more arid regions and decreasing in more humid regions, pointing to the need for operating policies which are not solely based on static values.

Jennie C. Steyaert and Laura E. Condon

Status: open (until 14 Nov 2023)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse

Jennie C. Steyaert and Laura E. Condon

Data sets

ResOpsUS Jennie C. Steyaert, Laura E. Condon, Sean W. D. Turner, and Nathalie Voisin

Model code and software

ResOpsUS Analysis Jennie C. Steyaert

Jennie C. Steyaert and Laura E. Condon


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Short summary
Reservoirs impact all river systems in the United States, yet their operations are difficult to quantify due to data limitations. Using the ResOpsUS dataset (a dataset of historical reservoir operations), we find that reservoir storage has declined over the past 40 years and there are clear regional differences based on climate, and reservoir use. Through evaluating common assumptions in models, we find that storage can be underestimated using static upper and lower storage bounds.