Padilla Leads Senate Colleagues to Improve Reservoir Operations, Increase Water Conservation and Reliability

WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) led his colleagues in advocating for increased funding for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Operations Support (WOTS) program. In a letter to the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Energy and Water Development, the Senators call for $5.5 million in funding for FY 2022. The funding will help conserve water and reduce flooding during severe precipitation events to better prepare for flooding and help conserve our limited water supply.

Due to the increasing impacts from climate change, snowmelt is occurring earlier in the year and overlapping with the rainy season, leaving communities in California and across the country more vulnerable to both flooding and drought. Atmospheric rivers are long narrow bands of airborne water vapor that can carry as much water as 15 Mississippi Rivers and bring most of the rain and snow to the West. The Army Corps has used WOTS funding to study atmospheric rivers to improve operations through Forest-Informed Reservoir Operations. Applying weather and seasonal forecasting observations to improve reservoir operations allows the Corps to increase water supply while maintaining critical flood control during atmospheric river storms. 

“There is a need to improve reservoir operations to increase water conservation and reliability, while maintaining flood control and enhanced public safety during extreme precipitation events,” the Senators wrote. “40-60% of annual precipitation along the West Coast, and nearly 85% of its flooding, are caused by sporadic, extreme atmospheric river (AR) rain events. An entire water year, and the risk of flooding or drought, may hinge on a few AR storms. Too few, and drought develops. Too many ARs, capped by one that is too strong, can lead to historically damaging floods.”

The Senators continued, “Funding the WOTS program at $5.5 million for FY2022 will allow continued development of and improvement in decision-making tools at additional western reservoirs to enable water managers to more accurately track, monitor, and respond to major precipitation variability – from flooding to drought conditions.”

Senator Padilla was joined by U.S. Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in advocating for support for the program.

A copy of the letter can be viewed here and read below.

Dear Chair Feinstein and Ranking Member Kennedy:

We write to express our support for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Water Operations Technical Support (WOTS) program within Operations and Maintenance, Remaining Items. We respectfully request the Committee fund this program at $5.5 million for FY 2022.  

Many Western water operations are strictly regulated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers approved Water Control Manuals (WCMs) based on long-term averages of winter storms and spring runoff, operating on calendar year directives: reservoir water levels are lowered in October to prevent winter-storm-runoff floods, and raised again in April. There is a need to improve reservoir operations to increase water conservation and reliability, while maintaining flood control and enhanced public safety during extreme precipitation events. 

40-60% of annual precipitation along the West Coast, and nearly 85% of its flooding, are caused by sporadic, extreme atmospheric river (AR) rain events. An entire water year, and the risk of flooding or drought, may hinge on a few AR storms. Too few, and drought develops. Too many ARs, capped by one that is too strong, can lead to historically damaging floods.

New federal policies allow water managers to incorporate precipitation forecasts in planning water operations, allowing forecast information to be incorporated in Water Control deviations and updates. AR storms now show promise of being predictable enough several days before landfall to use this information in flood control and water management models. By developing tools and techniques to incorporate better forecasts into management processes, water managers are able to retain water that would otherwise be needlessly released—resulting in cost savings and a more reliable water supply, while preserving and enhancing flood control capabilities. This is relevant for the multitude of dams and reservoirs in Western U.S. whether utilized for flood control, water supply, or both. 

This program recently demonstrated success increasing dry season storage of water at one reservoir by almost 20% during two very different years – one relatively wet, and one the third driest on record. Funding the WOTS program at $5.5 million for FY2022 will allow continued development of and improvement in decision-making tools at additional western reservoirs to enable water managers to more accurately track, monitor, and respond to major precipitation variability – from flooding to drought conditions.

Thank you for your consideration of this request.

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