Study shows benefits of alternative reservoir operations

The Bureau of Reclamation recently released the final report for a study assessing the economic and environmental benefits of alternative reservoir operations for Lake Mendocino.

As California frequently experiences severe flood and drought periods, more flexibility in the way reservoirs are managed could help mitigate the impacts of droughts and floods without requiring expensive new infrastructure. According to the study alternative approaches to reservoir operations could improve flood mitigation and drought resiliency using Forecast Informed Reservoir Operations (FIRO).

FIRO is a flexible water management approach that uses data from watershed monitoring and improved weather forecasting to help water managers selectively retain or release water from the reservoir. Reclamation used data from the past 33-years to estimate the impacts on Lake Mendocino’s water levels. The report found that depending on the alternative employed estimated annual benefits are either $9.4 million or $9.9 million.

Since the pilot study was meant to support discussions about potential benefits of FIRO, Reclamation will also be evaluating implementation of FIRO for potential future reservoir operations.

Funding for the study came from Reclamation’s WaterSMART Basin Study Program. The full report is available at Reservoir Operation Pilots | WaterSMART (

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