Water supply forecasts are important for any crop year. But for farmers, ranchers, foresters, and water managers in the West facing extreme and debilitating drought conditions, those forecasts have never been more critical to their operations and livelihoods.
Since the Dust Bowl of the 1930s, NRCS has helped America’s producers plan for their operations through the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast program. The program runs a massive network of mountain climate and snow monitoring sites across the western U.S. called SNOTEL. This is coupled with other data and computer models to predict the amount of river runoff in the upcoming spring and summer. These water supply forecasts are used by America’s producers to plan their operations for the year, by helping guide choices like crop selection, water rights rentals, and whether to leave land fallow.
Over the decades, that information has grown to be used by many other groups for many purposes – from optimizing hydroelectric power generation, to assessing seasonal flood risk, to complying with legal decisions around endangered species and international treaties governing transboundary rivers. The value of water managed using these forecasts is easily in the billions of dollars, and even modest increases in accuracy can create over $100 million a year in public benefit for just one river basin.