NASA airborne mission helps manage water supplies in California

Dec. 10, 2013 at 6:56 PM
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PASADENA, Calif., Dec. 10 (UPI) -- NASA says an airborne mission helped water managers for 2.6 million Californians achieve near-perfect water operations this summer.

Despite the driest year in California's recorded history, high-resolution snow maps of the Tuolumne River Basin in the Sierra Nevada provided by the prototype Airborne Snow Observatory mission helped optimize reservoir filling and hydroelectric generation at a reservoir and dam that serves the San Francisco Bay Area, the space agency reported Monday.

The result was a full reservoir at the end of the snowmelt season, no water spillage and generation of more than $3.9 million in hydropower, NASA scientists said.

"For the first time, Airborne Snow Observatory data are telling us the total water in the snowpack in the watershed and the absorption of sunlight that control its melt speed, enabling us to estimate how much water will flow out of a basin when the snow melts," said Tom Painter, observatory principal investigator at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena.

This helped reservoir managers more efficiently allocate water inflow between power generation, water supplies and ecological purposes, he said.

Efficient reservoir operations are vital in the face of ongoing climate change, larger weather uncertainties, California's ongoing severe drought and increasing demand for water, he said.

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