New tools help predict water levels in NYC's Catskills watershed
Catskills In the past, forecasters had to use year-old data to estimate the threat that snow, rainfall and sudden thaws could have on communities downstream from water bodies managed by the New York City Department of Environmental Protection.
Following a cooperative project with the National Weather Service, technicians at the DEP now have their fingers on the pulse of the city’s entire reservoir system — including the Schoharie Watershed, which feeds the Mohawk River’s biggest tributary.
The DEP recently announced its “Operations Support Tool” is online throughout the city water supply system’s reservoirs, including the Schoharie Reservoir which, through the Schoharie Creek, contributes massive amounts of water to the Mohawk River upstream of Amsterdam and Schenectady.
The new system’s benefits are twofold.
With precise, real-time data on the amount of snow in the mountains, the level of water in the reservoirs and precipitation forecasts, water supply managers can ensure people in the Big Apple are getting good clean water.
Secondly, weather forecasters and emergency managers can now predict exactly how much water would be flowing downstream in the event of a quick springtime thaw.
“This tool is not developed only with the water supply in mind,” DEP spokesman Adam Bosch said.
The $8 million system also provides important data water system administrators need to make a decision when to divert water from a reservoir.
Stream gauges; snowpack gauges, which determine the amount of water in the snow in the watersheds; and National Weather Service forecasts are all rolled into the new system, which is considered the first of its kind.
“New York City is breaking new ground with the development of the Operations Support Tool, which is the first modeling system of its kind for any water utility in the country,” DEP Commissioner Carter Strickland said in a news release.
Forecasts for the amount of runoff were critical to the program, and the DEP made $1 million available to the National Weather Service to speed up development of the agency’s new Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast Service.
National Weather Service hydrologists familiar with the program were not available for comment Monday.
National Weather Service Deputy Director Laura Furgione in a release described the development as advancing forecast information by an entire year.
Before the system was put online, the DEP had to input the prior year’s water data into its modeling. Now, this year’s water is pinpointed.
“Through this partnership, we can demonstrate the value of river forecast uncertainty information and begin rolling out probabilistic forecasts at least a year earlier than originally planned that will improve our services to protect lives and property and enhance the national economy,” Furgione said in the release.
“Effective partnerships, like this one with NYC, are critical to our vision for a Weather-Ready Nation,” she said.