There is an above normal probability of releases from the Washington metropolitan area’s back-up water supply reservoirs for the 2015 summer and fall seasons. Generally, the use of Jennings Randolph and Little Seneca reservoirs is triggered by low flows brought about by a combination of low summer precipitation and low groundwater levels. According to MARFC’s Water Resource Outlook for the southern portion of the Middle Atlantic, below normal precipitation over the past several weeks indicates that a dry spell has started. Although still short term, if this overall dryness continues, then longer term deficits will grow and effects will increase, such as low stream flows, low groundwater levels, and dry soils. Expected precipitation for the month of June may help ease some of the increasingly dry 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 because of carefully designed drought-contingency plans.
ICPRB’s Low Flow Outlook:
There is a 10 to 19 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 flow-by. 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 weighting for current conditions. The conditional probability of 10 to 19 percent compares to a historical probability of 8 to 15 percent and is considered the more reliable indicator.
Learn more about the Water Supply Outlook.