Water Supply Outlook and Status
Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin
What is the Outlook?
The water supply outlook is published by ICPRB’s Section for Cooperative Water Supply Operations (CO-OP) staff on a monthly basis between April and October of each year. It provides an update on the possibility of water supply releases from the area’s reservoirs based on long-term precipitation data, flows, and other information for the Potomac basin.
Download: Water Supply Outlook, April 2020
The probability of releases from the Washington metropolitan area’s back-up water supply reservoirs for the 2020 summer and fall seasons is close to normal. The use of Jennings Randolph and Little Seneca reservoirs is generally triggered by low flows brought about by a combination of low summer precipitation and low groundwater levels. Average precipitation in the Potomac Basin in March was 1.1 inches below normal and the 12-month cumulative precipitation is now 1 inch below normal. Streamflow is currently near normal, and groundwater levels are normal with some local exceptions. The Middle Atlantic River Forecast Center’s (MARFC) outlook for water resources and supplies is fair, pointing to worsening of conditions over the past couple of weeks, low winter precipitation and groundwater recharge. Though precipitation outlooks remain above average, persistence of a dry, warm weather into spring, could lead to the development of drought conditions. At present, there is sufficient flow in the Potomac River to meet the Washington metropolitan area’s water demands without augmentation from upstream reservoirs. In the event that low-flow conditions do develop, the Washington metropolitan area is well-protected from a water supply shortage owing to carefully designed drought-contingency plans.
ICPRB’s Low Flow Outlook:
There is a 6 to 12 percent conditional probability that natural Potomac flow will drop below 600 to 700 million gallons per day (MGD) at Little Falls through December 31 of this year; at these flow levels, water supply releases from Jennings Randolph and Little Seneca reservoirs may occur. Releases occur when predicted flow is less than demand plus a required environmental flow. Drinking water demand ranges from 400 to 700 MGD during the summer months and the minimum flow-by at Little Falls is 100 MGD. Note that natural flow is defined as observed flow at the Little Falls gage plus total Washington metropolitan Potomac withdrawals, with an adjustment made to remove the effect of North Branch reservoir releases on stream flow.
The conditional probability is estimated by analyzing the historical stream flow records and giving consideration to recent stream flow values, precipitation totals for the prior 12 months, current groundwater levels, and the current Palmer Drought Index. Past years in which watershed conditions most closely resemble current conditions are weighted more heavily in the determination of conditional probability. The historical, or unconditional, probability is based on an analysis of the historical record without weighing for current conditions. The 6 to 12 percent conditional probability compares to the 8 to 15 percent historical probability and is considered the more reliable indicator.
- US Drought Monitor
- CO-OP Drought Monitoring Updates
- Maryland Drought Status
- Virginia Drought Status
- West Virginia Drought Monitor
- Pennsylvania Drought Status
- Forecasted U.S. Conditions Summary
Recent precipitation and forecasts:
- CO-OP’s Potomac Basin Precipitation Map
- Precipitation maps from the MARFC
- Quantitative Precipitation Forecast, MARFC 3 days
- Quantitative Precipitation Forecast, NWS 1-5 days
Water Supply Outlook Archive:
2020: April | May | June | July | August | September | October
Please contact us if you would like to be notified when new Water Supply Outlooks are posted.