Case Studies

The project team for this study conducted a series of interviews with U.S. Bureau of Reclamation engineers and water planners to better understand how Decisionmaking Under Deep Uncertainty (DMDU) methods have been used to date, to catalog which aspects of the applications were successful and less successful, and to identify a set of case studies that could provide the basis for training Reclamation planners in RDM.

The project team identified for this tool three Reclamation and two non-Reclamation studies that demonstrate different approaches to using DMDU methods. All of the case studies are from the Western United States and Mexico. Each case study is briefly described below, and links are provided to the detailed, interactive case studies.

Case Study 1. Colorado River Basin Case Study

Hoover Dam intake tower on Lake Mead on the Colorado River. Photo by HKPNC / Getty Images

The Colorado River Basin Water Supply and Demand Study (CRBS), which was published in 2012, was one of the first of a series of Reclamation-led basin studies examining water management conditions and adaptation options over the next five decades (through 2060). Working with representatives from the seven U.S. Colorado River Basin states and a consulting team, the CRBS team explicitly used RDM to support its evaluation of the Colorado River Basin’s supply-and-demand imbalance and compare portfolios of management options under a variety of plausible future climate, demand, and operations conditions.

This case study focuses on how RDM helped researchers evaluate thousands of plausible futures and concisely define the key future conditions, or scenarios, that would require significant investments in new supplies or reduced demands.

Use this case study to

  • explore a subset of the Colorado River simulations
  • experiment with tools used to identify vulnerabilities
  • interact with visualizations of trade-offs among portfolios of water management actions.
Explore Colorado River Basin Study case study

Case Study 2. Sacramento–San Joaquin River Basin Case Study

The San Joaquin Valley, photo by akrassel / Getty Images

Reclamation’s Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers Basin Study (SSJRBS) examined California’s largest watershed and a key source of water throughout the Central Valley, Bay Area, and Southern California. The study, which was completed in 2014, took a comprehensive look at the potential impacts of climate change and mitigation strategies to the system. It used many elements of DMDU but in a different way than the CRBS. For this case study, the project team worked with staff from Reclamation’s Mid-Pacific Regional Office to explore how some specific RDM techniques could be used to derive additional information about key vulnerable conditions, potential benefits across multiple objectives, and multiobjective trade-offs of different adaptations. Specifically, the case study focuses on the following three aspects of RDM:

  1. evaluating plausible futures
  2. identifying vulnerabilities
  3. comparing alternative strategies.

Use this case study to explore

  • multiobjective visualizations drawn from MORDM
  • interactive visualizations to showcase trade-offs among different portfolios of projects to reduce vulnerabilities.
Explore Sacramento San Joaquin River Basin Study case study

Case Study 3. Pecos River–New Mexico Basin Case Study

The Pecos River Canyon in Texas. Photo by artiste9999 / Getty Images

The Pecos River–New Mexico Basin Study (PRNMBS) is the most recent Reclamation basin study described in this tool. The PRNMBS used a scenario-planning approach that included many of the main elements of DMDU best practices. The PRNMBS team simplified some of the more complex analytical tasks of a standard RDM study by selecting five scenarios to represent uncertainty before evaluating the performance of the system. By doing so, the study team reduced the computational burden of evaluating the water management system across hundreds of different, plausible climate conditions. This approach led to results that are straightforward—how different adaptations would perform under the five scenarios. However, by using only a small set of scenarios, it is not easy to identify the thresholds that would help inform decisionmaking. This case study evaluates the advantages and limitations of exploring a reduced set of futures and describes how an RDM vulnerability analysis could provide additional context for the comparison of alternative strategies.

The case study also

  • describes how this method compares with more-standard DMDU approaches
  • develops some guidance for when a simplified DMDU approach is warranted
  • describes how additional analysis could allow the use of DMDU tools and lead to additional insights.
Explore Pecos River Basin Study case study

Case Study 4. Metropolitan Water District of Southern California Case Study

The Santa Ana River in Anaheim in Orange County, photo by Derek Neumann / Getty Images

The Metropolitan Water District of Southern California (Metropolitan) 2015 Integrated Resources Plan (IRP) describes how Metropolitan could meet water demands over the next 25 years (through 2040) (Metropolitan, 2016a). A Metropolitan-funded study used RDM to evaluate the robustness of Metropolitan’s 2015 IRP to a wide range of uncertain future trends. The findings were used to propose a monitoring approach that Metropolitan can use to adapt the IRP to future conditions. In addition to summarizing the RDM analysis, this case study examines how the results from the vulnerability analysis can inform an approach for monitoring IRP implementation.

Use this case study to game out how future climate and demographic conditions could suggest modifications to the IRP to ensure that Southern California’s water objectives are met.

Explore Monitoring and Implementation of an Adaptive Strategy case study

Case Study 5: Monterrey, Mexico, Case Study

A surburban street in Cerro de la Silla, Monterrey, Mexico. Photo by Ana / Adobe Stock

Planners in growing metropolitan regions in Latin America face many challenges in developing water resources–management strategies that will support current and future needs. These issues are particularly relevant in Monterrey, Mexico, the economic capital of northern Mexico and an important player in the economic industrial cluster across Mexico’s border with the United States. A recent study, funded by Fondo de Agua Metropolitano de Monterrey (FAMM), used DMDU methods—specifically, RDM—to structure an analysis of water management vulnerabilities and develop a robust, adaptive water management strategy for Monterrey, Mexico. This case study summarizes the project and focuses on describing the identified robust, adaptive water management strategy.

Use this case study to

  • compare strategies that emphasize different water management approaches in the near term
  • explore how a robust strategy adapts over time to evolving hydrological conditions and water demand.
Explore Developing a Robust Water Management Strategy for Monterrey, Mexico case study