A pair of flood gauges which served as early-warning systems during last year’s heavy flooding and was slated to be shut off later this year won a temporary reprieve last week.
U.S. Senators Charles Schumer, D-NY and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. announced last week that money has been secured to fund 18 U.S. Geological Survey run gauges in the New York-Vermont Lake Champlain Basin.
Nine of the gauges are located in Vermont and nine are located in New York including a gauge on the Mettowee River, 110 feet downstream from the bridge on County Route 21 in Middle Granville, and a second on Lake Champlain approximately 2.5 miles north of the state boat launch on South Bay and four miles north of the village and Lock 12.
Schumer and Leahy secured $67,000 worth of funding from the Great Lakes Fishery Commission to keep the gauges running. However that amount will only keep the gauges running a few months.
Gary Frida, a hydrologist with the USGS estimated that each gauge costs approximately $15,000 per year to operate.
Using those estimates, the USGS would need more than $135,000 to keep the nine gauges in New York operational for the year.
The gauges are used to warn residents of low-lying areas of the potential threat of flooding. When you see a news report that says a river will crest its banks at a specific location and time, it’s using data from those gauges to make that determination.
Bill Cook, Washington County director of Public Safety, said his department relied heavily on those gauges during both of this year’s flooding events.
“We were constantly trying to find out what the gauges were saying. They give us an indicator of whether things are getting better or getting worse. It plays a big part in emergency response,” Cook said.
Cook said they have other methods of monitoring water levels but they aren’t as efficient as the gauges, which could be checked from their offices in Fort Edward and provide up-to-the-moment data.
The USGS announced last fall that 31 gauges in New York and another eight in Vermont were scheduled to be shut off on March 1 because the traditional source funding was eliminated.
Frida said the gauges have traditionally been funded by earmarks, and those in the Lake Champlain Basin were always included in the federal budget by Leahy, who sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.
But when Congress eliminated earmarks last year, the USGS lost nearly $350,000 that it used to pay for the stream gauge system.
Besides their use in monitoring floods the gauges are also used to monitor water quality and the rate of pollution, track long term changes that could be a result of climate change, are used in culvert and bridge design, flow studies in drought and high water events and for recreational pursuits such as boating and fishing.
The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) uses them when they are conducting flood insurance studies.