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Exploring the ability of reservoir infrastructure to mitigate climate change compounded impacts on stream temperature and water availability in the Southeastern United States
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  • Yifan Cheng,
  • John Yearsley,
  • Voisin Nathalie,
  • Bart Nijssen
Yifan Cheng
University of Washington, Seattle

Corresponding Author:[email protected]

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John Yearsley
University of Washington, Seattle
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Voisin Nathalie
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
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Bart Nijssen
University of Washington
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Over 270 major dams have been constructed in the Southeastern United States (SEUS) during the past century, changing natural flow patterns and affecting stream temperatures. Projected increases in air temperature combined with changes in precipitation may result in water scarcity and affect maximum stream temperatures during the summer for some regions in the SEUS. Currently existing reservoirs mitigate water shortages during drought by releasing more water but reducing residence time, the ratio of reservoir volume to inflow. Regulating stream temperature in the summer can be done by either increasing residence time or releasing more water. In this study, we investigate the extent to which the current reservoir infrastructure can be used to mitigate the impacts of climate change under current reservoir regulations as well as the range of operating rules that could minimize climate change impacts on both streamflow and river temperature. We use the Variable Infiltration Capacity (VIC) hydrological model to simulate runoff, which is then used as input to a large-scale river routing-reservoir model (MOSART-WM) to simulate reservoir operations and produce regulated streamflow. VIC and MOSART-WM outputs are then used as input to a stream temperature model that accounts for thermal stratification in reservoirs (RBM-res). Climate change projections are based on two representative concentration pathways (RCPs) and multiple global climate models from the Coupled Model Intercomparison Project Phase 5 (CMIP5). We compare modeled changes with those from a model implementation that does not include any reservoirs and which therefore lacks any flow regulation (VIC->MOSART-RBM) to evaluate the resilience of current reservoir infrastructures. We also evaluate different reservoir operating rules (residence time versus low flow mitigation) to investigate the extent to which the current reservoir system can be used to mitigate the impacts of climate changes on both streamflow and stream temperature.