A Roadmap to Intelligent Watersheds


Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are supporting hydropower stakeholders by building a comprehensive data-to-decision framework for river basins

The sun shines on a hydropower facility and surrounding watershed area.

Modern hydropower decisions are complicated

Hydropower owner-operators face increasingly difficult decisions in our era of changing climate and more interconnected systems and feedbacks. Operators must balance power production with needs for grid services, water supply, flood control, and environmental management, as well as other demands. Striking the right balance requires operators to consider and coordinate with assets at watershed to basin scales. Informed decision-making for multiuse watersheds demands the development of an interconnected system of systems (an “intelligent system”) that comprehensively connects information chains from data to decision across scales.

Intelligent systems can help

An intelligent system creates data-to-decision pathways by digitally linking sensing systems, data management systems, and analysis tools to inform decisions. These systems can operate autonomously or with human input along the information pathway. Intelligent systems for water resources are rapidly being adopted at the household and facility scales – but have yet to enjoy such interest at watershed scales.

A flow chart showing the steps of data creation to management to use.
A data-to-decision pathway that seamlessly integrates data creation, management, and use is critical for strategic decisions at the watershed scale. (Graphic by Kelly Machart | Pacific Northwest National Laboratory)

Diverse perspectives are critical to watershed intelligence

With support from the Department of Energy’s Water Power Technologies Office, researchers from Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory are establishing a roadmap for enhancing watershed intelligence.

An integral part of the roadmap development is thoughtful engagement with diverse stakeholder groups who are interested in hydropower and other water management decisions. Engaging with stakeholders will help to ensure that the roadmap includes a variety of perspectives and reflects different interests, geographic jurisdictions, and scientific sectors. Toward this goal, a variety of engagement opportunities are being planned in 2023 and 2024.

We need your perspective! Join our effort to:

  • establish a vision for intelligent watersheds
  • formulate measures of watershed intelligence
  • prioritize research and development goals
  • explore challenges to the implementation of intelligent watersheds.

For more information, contact Vincent Tidwell (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory) and Carly Hansen (Oak Ridge National Laboratory).