How uncertainty analysis of streamflow data can reduce costs and promote robust decisions in water management applications

Water Resources Research
By: , and 

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Abstract

Streamflow data are used for important environmental and economic decisions, such as specifying and regulating minimum flows, managing water supplies, and planning for flood hazards. Despite significant uncertainty in most flow data, the flow series for these applications are often communicated and used without uncertainty information. In this commentary, we argue that proper analysis of uncertainty in river flow data can reduce costs and promote robust conclusions in water management applications. We substantiate our argument by providing case studies from Norway and New Zealand where streamflow uncertainty analysis has uncovered economic costs in the hydropower industry, improved public acceptance of a controversial water management policy, and tested the accuracy of water quality trends. We discuss the need for practical uncertainty assessment tools that generate multiple flow series realizations rather than simple error bounds. Although examples of such tools are in development, considerable barriers for uncertainty analysis and communication still exist for practitioners, and future research must aim to provide easier access and usability of uncertainty estimates. We conclude that flow uncertainty analysis is critical for good water management decisions.

Additional publication details

Publication type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Title How uncertainty analysis of streamflow data can reduce costs and promote robust decisions in water management applications
Series title Water Resources Research
DOI 10.1002/2016WR020328
Volume 53
Issue 7
Year Published 2017
Language English
Publisher AGU
Contributing office(s) Office of Surface Water
Description 9 p.
First page 5220
Last page 5228