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UTA research predicting lake levels, moving water to yield better data for water providers

December 03, 2015

A University of Texas at Arlington environmental engineer is creating an integrated decision support tool for optimal operation of water supply systems that will allow water providers to make better decisions about when to turn on pumps to transfer water from one reservoir system to another and when to release water downstream from the reservoirs.

DJ Seo, associate professor in the Civil Engineering Department, will use a two-year $283,000 grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Climate Program Office to forecast inflows into water supply reservoirs and to generate optimal solutions for operation of water supply systems for major water providers in the region. He will collaborate on the project with the Tarrant Regional Water District, the National Weather Service, the Trinity River Authority and the North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Seo's work will begin with an examination of the past.

"We can go back 30 years and operate, as if in real time, a system of reservoirs and pipelines with and without the inflow forecast information. It's called hindcasting," Seo said. "When a large water provider decides to turn on a pump to transfer water from one system to another, it requires a lot of energy and costs a lot of money. By utilizing the forecast information for precipitation, temperature and inflow, the water providers will be able to save energy while maintaining or improving the lake levels."

Seo said the extreme weather patterns in North Texas, which have included severe drought and flooding recently, has those water providers seeking better information with which to make their decisions.

"We want to make use of as much skillful forecast information as possible in the decision-making process," Seo said.

The system - called the Hydrologic Ensemble Forecast System - could provide even greater savings with a project like the 150-mile Integrated Pipeline Project. Tarrant Regional Water District and the City of Dallas are building that $2.3 billion project, which should be partially operational by 2018. The IPL will pump water from Lake Palestine to Dallas Water Utilities customers. The IPL also will pump water from Cedar Creek and Richland Chambers reservoirs to TRWD customers.

Seo said ensemble forecasts from HEFS would provide the large water providers in the region with a range of possible values that could lead to more cost-effective decisions.

Other partners on the project include: Laura Blaylock, TRWD manager of energy and water management; Courtney Jalbert, TRWD meteorologist; Glenn Clingenpeel, TRA executive manager, planning and environmental services; Frank Bell and Andrew Philpott, NWS West Gulf River Forecast Center hydrologists, Arne Winguth, UTA associate professor in oceanography, earth and environmental sciences; Nick Fang, UTA assistant professor in civil engineering; and James Brown, director of Hydrologic Solutions Limited in the United Kingdom.

TRWD's Laura Blaylock said that collaboration with Dr. Seo on this project will assist TRWD in applying hydrologic data to forecast future water demands and sources.

"TRWD is committed to responsible stewardship of the water supplies in the region. Optimization of existing water resources is integral to ensuring that future water demands are met."

Khosrow Behbehani, dean of the College of Engineering, said Seo's work helps safeguard North Texas' most essential natural resource and targets two of UTA's strategic goals of managing natural resources and building sustainable communities.

"Water resources management has increasingly become important for North Texas, as the population of the area is increasing at a very rapid pace," Behbehani said. "Dr. Seo's work is essential to making better water management decisions. His findings will help the region optimize the use of the most important natural resource we have. The research could also provide other regions around the state and nation with a significant tool to most effectively manage their water resources."

The new prediction and forecasting project is not Seo's first in water management.

He also is using a $1.2 million National Science Foundation grant to improve sustainability of large urban area from extreme weather, urbanization and climate change. For that research, Seo is leading a team of researchers who will integrate data from advanced weather radar systems, innovative wireless sensors and crowdsourcing of data via cell phone applications to create high-resolution modeling of urban water systems. The data could produce a suite of products for flash flood forecasting, storm water management and a number of other tools.

Seo also helped lead the effort to bring the Collaborative Atmospheric Sensing of the Atmosphere or CASA radar system to UTA. The University, along with government and higher education partners, installed the first radar station in North Texas. It sits atop Carlyle Hall.

The CASA system provides weather data every minute compared to every five to six minutes with previous weather radar systems. CASA can adapt to focus on smaller areas, giving the users more detailed information to better monitor and track storms and precipitation.

About The University of Texas at Arlington

The University of Texas at Arlington is a comprehensive research institution of more than 51,000 students in campus-based and online degree programs and is the second largest institution in The University of Texas System. The Chronicle of Higher Education ranked UTA as one of the 20 fastest-growing public research universities in the nation in 2014. U.S. News & World Report ranks UTA Arlington fifth in the nation for undergraduate diversity. The University is a Hispanic-Serving Institution and is ranked as a "Best for Vets" college by Military Times magazine. Visit to learn more, and find UT Arlington rankings and recognition at

University of Texas at Arlington

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