Almost all major development problems in Sub-Saharan Africa are water-related: low economic development, low energy production, food insecurity, recurrent droughts, disastrous floods, and poor health conditions. As part of efforts to develop industry and improve the lives of its citizens, Sub-Saharan Africa has embarked on a new era of dam-building particularly for hydropower production. However, the prevailing inefficient reservoir operation (power production as low as 30% of design capacity, and sudden release of reservoir water claiming lives and destroying properties) threatens to curb the expected benefits. The root cause of the problem is that the current decision-making practices do not utilize skillful short- to seasonal-range forecast anomalies in water flow and supply conditions, and do not optimize joint reservoir operations based on this information. Improving water supply forecasts through the use of earth system science observations and models, coupled with the employment of optimizations tools, could address the problem and result in enormous benefits. This project is developing a decision support system (DSS) to use Earth systems science observations and models to optimize reservoir operation for hydropower production. The other aspect of this project will target user capacity to access and utilize the DSS.

Geographic Focus

East Africa, with focus areas in Ethiopia and Tanzania

Principal Investigator

Mekonnen Gebremichael (UCLA)

Project Team

Thomas Hopson, NCAR
William Yeh, UCLA
Dan Collins, NOAA-CPC
Dorita Rostkier-Edelstein, Israel Institute of Biological Research
Mebrate Tafesse, WWSDE

Collaborators & Stakeholders

Ethiopian Ministry of Water, Energy and Irrigation
Ethiopian Electric Power
Tanzania Electricity Company
National Meteorological Agency of Ethiopia

Technical Summary

A joint project of UCLA and the National Center for Atmospheric Research supported by the NASA Applied Sciences Program has demonstrated the operational provision of skillful rainfall forecasts from 1-day out to 2-months and beyond to help manage hydropower reservoir water supplies in Ethiopia, Tanzania, and potentially to the greater East Africa region. These forecasts rely on NASA satellite imagery and climate forecasts from over ten centers throughout the globe, and visuals and associated data are being provided under a developing decision support system (DSS). Project partners are now working to establish operational hydrologic forecasts along with the provision of early warning information system alerts for select hydropower-providing reservoirs in Ethiopia. The primary goal of the pilot project is to optimize reservoir operation for maximum hydropower production in Africa through the utilization of remote sensing data and climate forecasts in a DSS.

Additional Information

For more information and to view operational climate forecasts for our region, please see

Related Research Areas                                            

Drought impact monitoring, forecasting, and mitigation, Streamflow and flood forecasting