Improved Communication and Coordination
Following the 2011 flood, the Corps' Northwestern Division, which covers a large part of the United States and includes the Columbia River Basin in addition to the Missouri, committed to better communication with congressional delegations, states, tribes, and stakeholders. Part of this effort was to expand the webinars the Corps was holding on the status of conditions and management of the Missouri Basin system. The webinars continue to the present day and are held on a monthly basis from January through July. They include representatives from NOAA's Regional Climate Services Director and the National Weather Service (NWS). The NOAA representative provides updates on recent weather and short-term weather forecasts as well as long-term climate outlooks. The NWS partners provide information regarding the Missouri Basin snowpack and streamflow conditions, and flooding conditions and/or the potential for flooding. The Corps provides an update on basin conditions and runoff forecasts as well as reservoir conditions and forecasted reservoir operations. The webinar also provides a question-and-answer opportunity for all participants to query the Corps and their NOAA and NWS partners. The inclusion of NOAA in the webinars is significant in that it allows the stakeholders on the webinar to hear directly from the experts as opposed to the Corps being the only messenger. This new structure for the webinars added more credibility to the process and improved the perception the Corps was coordinating well with its partners (Kevin Grode, personal communication, January 23, 2017). To complement the Corps webinars, the NOAA Regional Climate Services Director and the South Dakota State Climatologist started a webinar series in late 2011 that elaborated on the weather and climate conditions in the region. The webinars were initially created to deliver information that would support the Corps and to track conditions following to the 2011 flood. As the drought emerged in 2012, however, the webinars were modified to cover current drought conditions, impacts, and both short-term and seasonal forecasts. While the 2012 drought was unfolding, and the Corps, NOAA, and many other groups were working to track it, the Corps was still working to better understand the 2011 flood, which would ultimately have consequences for how it anticipated drought as well.
In 2012, the Corps' Northwestern Division commissioned NOAA's Earth System Research Laboratory in Boulder, Colorado, to address key questions identified in the post-flood assessment process. The first report (Hoerling et al. 2013) assessed the conditions that led to the flood; the second report (Pegion and Webb 2014) addressed whether the flood and drought could have been predicted with a 6-month lead time; and the last report considered why 9 of the 10 highest historic annual runoff years in the Missouri Basin have occurred since 1975 (Livneh et al. 2016). The last example of how coordination and communication increased following the flood and drought events is evidenced by the fact that the recommendations from the Snow Sampling and Instrumentation Recommendations report (USACE 2013) were included in the Water Resources Reform and Development Act (WRRDA) of 2014. The WRRDA is an authorization bill that sanctions a number of water resource projects and capabilities for the Corps. While an authorization bill does not necessarily result in funding, it was nevertheless impressive that the joint effort was incorporated in the 2014 WRRDA so soon after it was completed. Most likely this was the result of having a strong technical team and good participation from the states in the region.