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The University of Massachusetts Amherst

Modeling the Impact of Climate Change on Hydropower Operations in the Connecticut River Basin


S. Steinschneider

Austin Polebitski

Richard Palmer

Kyle O'Neill

Alec Bernstein

Craig Patterson

Scott Struck

Daniel Murray Jr.

+3 more
Publication Type:
Conference Paper
Year of Publication:
American Society of Civil Engineers
Cincinnati, Ohio, Reston, VA
ISBN Number:
Secondary Title:
World Environmental and Water Resources Congress 2013


There is significant evidence that altering river flows downstream of reservoirs harms native aquatic ecosystems and decreases the ability of native species to strive and survive. Additionally, climate change has been shown to affect streamflow in regions throughout the world and threatens the same in the northeast. The Connecticut River is the largest river basin in New England, draining over 11,000 square miles and encompassing various land types including mountains, lakes, lowlands, and urban areas. As one of the most impounded rivers in the United States, the basin is highly developed in areas with a number of large dams for hydropower, flood control, water supply, and recreation located on the Connecticut mainstem and its tributaries. Innovative, climate-informed water management is needed to improve the health of native aquatic species and their surrounding ecosystems while maintaining the benefits from historic operating policies at these facilities. This research uses the Connecticut River Variable Infiltration Capacity (CRVIC) hydrologic simulation model to generate climate-impacted streamflows from downscaled GCM meteorological output. The climate-impacted streamflows are used as inflows into a large LINGO optimization model of reservoir operations in the Connecticut River Basin. A total of 54 reservoirs of varying purposes are modeled to examine the impacts of climate change on hydropower production, flood control, water supply, recreation metrics, and ecological targets. Impacts of climate change on low-head hydropower production are examined closely as the majority of hydropower dams within the basin fall into this category. A comparison is drawn between the baseline and climate-impacted operations for the reservoirs within the system. The use of optimization models in reservoir operations is explored with the goal of addressing objectives related to emerging environmental concerns in the hydrologic regime with the consideration of historical operating objectives for management of hydropower reservoirs in the Connecticut River.