Weather Forecasts are for Wimps: Why Water Resource Managers Do Not Use Climate Forecasts

Short-term climate forecasting offers the promise of improved hydrologic management strategies. However, water resource managers in the United States have proven reluctant to incorporate them in decision making. While managers usually cite “poor reliability” of the forecasts as the reason for this, they are seldom able to demonstrate knowledge of the actual performance of forecasts or to consistently articulate the level of reliability that they would require. Analysis of three case studies in California, the Pacific Northwest, and metro Washington DC identifies institutional reasons that appear to lie behind managers’ reluctance to use the forecasts. These include traditional reliance on large built infrastructure, organizational conservatism and complexity, mismatch of temporal and spatial scales of forecasts to management needs, political disincentives to innovation, and regulatory constraints. The paper concludes that wider acceptance of the forecasts will depend on their being incorporated in existing organizational routines and industrial codes and practices, as well as changes in management incentives to innovation. Finer spatial resolution of forecasts and the regional integration of multi-agency functions would also enhance their usability.

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