Termination of hydrologic data collection (a case study)


  • Leonard J. Lane,

  • Donald R. Davis,

  • Soronadi Nnaji


Research objectives for the Southwest Watershed Research Center (SWRC), as determined by the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Science Education Administration (USDA-SEA), require a broad data base. The operation of seven experimental watersheds near Albuquerque, New Mexico and Safford, Arizona, which only obtain data on precipitation and runoff, was examined to determine (1) if their operation should continue as is, (2) if their data collection abilities should be expanded, or (3) if their operation should be discontinued. The decision-making procedure is modeled in terms of the theory of ‘bounded rationality’ rather than classical optimization theory.

The choice of alternatives was subject to three constraints: that the resources for data collection activities at SWRC would not be increased, that it be administratively feasible, and that no research program be seriously impaired, A problem-data matrix that showed the data needs for several research objectives was constructed. Based on this matrix and an estimate of the value of the research to the agricultural community, the three alternatives for the operation of seven watersheds were evaluated.

Considering the constraint of no additional resources and of administrative feasibility, the alternative of closing the seven watersheds was the best. To check that the third constraint was not violated, regional studies were made to compare precipitation and runoff characteristics of the Safford and Albuquerque watersheds with other experimental watersheds. A Bayesian decision analysis on the worth of future data was made. The regional analysis and the Bayesian study showed that closure of the watersheds would be detrimental to the precipitation and runoff data base, but not to the extent of impairing research objectives. The Albuquerque and Safford watersheds were closed in June 1976.