Updated 12/14/2011 10:17 PM
Water gauges that monitor flood-prone areas in danger of being shut down
From spring floods to Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee, New York State has weathered several water related disasters, the aftermath of which experts say could have been much worse if the state didn't have its network of carefully placed gauges to monitor water levels and predict flooding. As our Washington, D.C. bureau reporter Erin Billups tells us, those gauges are now in danger of being shut down and some members of New York's Congressional delegation are working to try and secure needed funding to keep them in operation.
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NEW YORK STATE -- Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee cost New York State and its residents billions of dollars in damage. But experts with the U.S. Geological Survey say it could have been worse if it wasn't for their instruments used to monitor and predict flooding.
"These gauges really are used by everyone to understand when they need to close roads, when they need to evacuate hospitals," said Ward Freemen, director of the USGS NY Water Science Center in Troy.
The USGS says they're now forced to shut down 580 stream gauges nationally, 30 in New York that monitor water levels along the Lake Champlain Basin, the Hudson River and the flood-prone Susquehanna River basin.
"These are almost all used by the National Weather Service for flood forecasts and warnings. Those are all very critical sites," said Freeman.
New York's stream gauges would cost around $430,000 annually to maintain.
"So much of our program depends on state and local agencies and the state and local budgets are being cut," said Robert Mason, a hydrologist and surface water specialist at USGS headquarters in Reston, VA.
Without earmarks to rely on, they're now looking to Washington to pick up the slack.
"If we don't have the data today, we won't be able to design or operate the system as well in the future," said Mason
Given the emphasis on austerity in Washington lawmakers warn securing funding for anything, even a few hundred thousand dollars, is a heavy lift.
"It's something we're going to continue to work on, but it's going to be very difficult," said Watertown Congressman Bill Owens.
While the Senate's draft bill that includes funding for the stream gauge network cuts about $2 million from the previous year, the House of Representatives’ version adds about $5 million.
"Not all of that will go directly to those gauges, some will and then further we have to determine how the allocation will be distributed," said Congressman Paul Tonko of Albany.
Until that spending bill is finalized later this week members of New York's delegation say they will be making the case for the gauges.
"This is an investment that's a must, because when you witness loss of life, when you witness the lost of homes completely swept away by the waters,” said Tonko. “There is a nobleness to this effort to get the appropriate amount of funds to assist with the gauging."
Some lawmakers are also urging the USGS to do what it can to make funding for New York’s gauges a priority.