Science, Health and Technology
6:01 pm
Thu December 22, 2011

Under budget crunch nationwide, river monitoring equipment safe in MO

While hundreds of “streamflow gauges” used nationally to monitor rising water levels are in danger of being shut down – the state of Missouri’s gauge stations may avoid that fate.

Streamflow gauges monitor rising water levels connected with flooding – and they have other uses such as monitoring the availability of water as a resource. This week the nonprofit reporting website stateline.org reported that the United States Geological Survey – or USGS – has identified more than 580 stations nationally that are endangered because of budget cutbacks.

Mike Slifer is the director of the USGS Missouri Water Science Center. He says Missouri has about 240 streamflow gauging stations that are funded through a patchwork of local, state and federal partnerships. And he says while those partnerships and their funding sources can sometimes be precarious, Missouri’s funding for the gauges has remained consistent even as many states are facing cutbacks to streamflow gauging systems.

“In the past,there has been potential issues as state funding has risen and following, one of the things that’s always looked at is the gauging program. The state of Missouri has pretty much recognized the importance of information on water resources and has been pretty consistent, even in up-and-down funding years, in funding those gauges that they partner with us on,” Slifer said.

Mike Norris is chief of the National Streamflow Information Program, which coordinates a network of thousands of gauging stations nationally that are managed and funded through local, state and federal partnerships. Norris says it’s a mixed bag of partnerships that can sometimes be precarious. states like Missouri that have had recent flooding sometimes are reluctant to cut funding to streamflow gauging

And while many people don’t know what a streamflow gauge is, Norris says the stations are an important resource for just about anything that has to do with water.

“A stream gauge somewhere on the stream that you live nearby are extremely important to you. Every bridge or culvert that somebody drove over going to work today, or going Christmas shopping, whatever they were doing, that was most likely designed using streamflow information,” Norris said.