A Drought Planning Tool for the Susquehanna River Basin: Water Supply Case Studies


  • W. Josh Weiss, Kinsey Hoffman, Justin Irving - Hazen and Sawyer
  • Ben Pratt, John Balay - Susquehanna River Basin Commission
  • Richard Palmer, Katie Booras, Alex McIntyre - University of Massachusetts-Amherst
  • Clark Howells - City of Baltimore, Department of Public Works

The economic impacts of drought are significant, accounting for approximately $3 billion/year in the US alone. Research thus far has shown that at least some of this economic damage can be reduced through more effective drought monitoring/forecasting and water resource management.

Tree ring reconstructions have proven very useful for understanding patterns of drought and precipitation, and show numerous periods of mild to severe drought over the last 500 years in the Northeast region of the US.

In addition to the uncertainty regarding typical drought patterns, climate models also predict changes in precipitation patterns. The impacts of these shifts in weather have the potential to affect both the quantity and quality of drinking water in the region.

This project built off a pre-existing model of the Susquehanna River Basin created in the OASIS software by Hydrologics. This tool utilizes a network of supply and demand nodes, representing things like reservoirs and water treatment plants. The nodes are connected by arcs, representing streams and aqueducts.

The objective of the Drought Planning Tool is to provide a quantitative basis for evaluating those trade-offs and using them to make informed planning and operating decisions.

It is exceedingly difficult to foresee the onset of a drought, and once in place, difficult to identify the end of a drought with enough lead time for effective management decisions. Further, management responses can be difficult and costly to implement, and often are not taken quickly for fear of initiating actions that will prove both costly and unnecessary. Advanced warning of impending drought conditions enables a variety of proactive responses to help resource managers more effectively limit impacts to system residents and stakeholders.

Particularly for regional systems with direct and indirect interconnections among water users, early warning of dry conditions is critical to proactively managing allocations among users. These systems may require a more complex triggering method, utilizing several indicators or a statistically based index, and involving comparisons between forecasted supply and demand. Early warning tools are particularly needed in the Eastern US due to a lack of consistent and spatially-resolved products relative to much of the Western US. These tools are increasingly important given the increased potential for extreme events with climate change and a relatively small historical record of extreme droughts on which to base drought plans.

Our team is currently working on a NOAA-funded effort to develop a Drought Planning Tool (DPT) for the Susquehanna River Basin that processes common hydrologic and climatological indicators for input to a water supply system simulation model. This effort supports NOAA’s National Integrated Drought Information System (NIDIS) program by (a) serving as a template for utilities throughout the mid-Atlantic and northeast regions to improve their drought projection and response capabilities and (b) identifying improvements in drought prediction products that could lead to more robust drought anticipation and response by the consumers of NIDIS products. For the Susquehanna River Basin, the DPT will serve as a framework for developing and applying quantitative drought predictions for utility and stakeholder planning, focused on early warning triggers for proactive drought impact mitigation measures.

In this presentation, we will provide an overview of the DPT and describe results of case studies focused on proactive drought operations for several water supply systems serving the cities of Baltimore, MD, York, PA, and Harrisburg, PA. Case studies will explore tradeoffs among water supply, water quality, and economic performance objectives and will demonstrate how the DPT can be used to improve individual water supply system performance as well as to address coordinated drought planning and management activities in the Basin. We will finally describe applicability of the tools and methods across the wider Chesapeake Bay region.

For more information, please contact the author at jweiss@hazenandsawyer.com.

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Horizons Fall 2017 (pdf)

Horizons showcases significant water, wastewater, reuse, and stormwater projects and innovations that help our clients to achieve their goals, and can help you achieve yours. Articles are written by top engineers and process group leaders, demonstrating and explaining the beneficial application of a variety of technologies and tools.

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