Evaluating the Impacts of Environmental Flow Alternatives on Reservoir and Recreational Operations Using System Dynamics Modeling


Providing environmental flows is increasingly a management obligation in many water resource systems. Evaluating the impacts of environmental flow alternatives on other water uses in a basin can be a challenge, especially when collaborating with stakeholders. We demonstrate the use of system dynamics (SD) modeling to assess the impacts of four environmental flow alternatives in the Rio Chama, New Mexico. The model was developed to examine impacts of each alternative on reservoir storage and releases, hydropower production and revenue, and whitewater boating access. We simulated each alternative within a stochastic framework in order to explicitly incorporate hydrologic uncertainty into the analyses. The environmental flow alternatives were developed at a collaborative workshop of geomorphology, hydrology, and ecology experts. Results from the model indicate that the proposed flow recommendations on the Rio Chama will generally decrease annual reservoir storage, increase median flows, and have minimal impacts on hydropower production and whitewater rafting on the system. The Rio Chama case study is a promising example of how SD modeling can be used in the early stages of environmental flow studies and why it is compatible with collaborative modeling.

JAWRA Journal of the American Water Resources Association, (51), 1, pp. 33–46, https://doi.org/10.1111/jawr.12231, https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/jawr.12231