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A Measure of Snow: Case Studies of the Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting Program

Julie A. Suhr Pierce | September 1st, 2010

Snow depth and snow water content data have been collected and disseminated throughout the W estern United States for over 100 years. Early Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting data were gathered through the efforts of university scientists. In 1935, the Soil Conservation Service (SCS) was given $36,000 to establish a formal cooperative Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecasting (SSWSF) Program. The agency was charged with the responsibility for “conducting Snow Survey and Water Supply Forecast s and forecasting of irrigation water supplies.” The new program would also develop consistent methods for measuring snow and reliable models for water supply forecasting.

Using a case study approach, this report assesses the various uses of data gathered and published by the SSWSF Program and estimates the value of those data in terms of both the market and non-market values of the information. Additionally, it evaluate s the relative merits of maintaining the program as a publicly funded program as opposed to privatizing the program.

This study finds that the SSWSF Program is generating both market and non-market benefits to the U.S. economy and to U.S. society as a whole that are worth significantly more than the cost of the program. Should climate variability increase — as is expected by many of those interviewed in the course of completing this study, and as current climate research strongly suggests — the value of the information provided by the SSWSF Program will increase accordingly.


water supply forecasting

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