"Sequestration Sinks Stream Gauges"

"Hydrologist David Evetts drove north from his office in Boise, Idaho, to the former prospecting town of Elk City on May 2. Fifty miles down a dead-end mountain road, he stopped at a gray metal box on a bridge over the South Fork Clearwater River. Reaching inside, he turned off the satellite feed that once relayed the river's water-level measurements from stream gauge number 13337500 every 15 minutes."

"'You almost want to say a prayer and wish it well,' says Evetts, who works for the U.S. Geological Survey. The gauge, which had operated for nearly 42 years, is one of two in Idaho that had to be shut down when the USGS took a 5 percent funding cut as part of the federal sequester.

The USGS operates some 7,000 stream gauges across the country, used by 850 other organizations for everything from watershed research to bridge design to water supply predictions. Each gauge costs around $14,000 to $18,000 to operate annually, and the budget cuts have jeopardized about 375. The most imperiled are marked with red stars on the agency's Threatened and Endangered Stations website. About 40 have already been shut down, their stars turning black as they blink out.

A stable network of gauges is valuable for water-supply forecasting because the data tie computer models to reality. Since stream flow and snowpack are both part of that forecast, 'if you take away one part you don't have a complete picture,' says Mike Strobel, director of the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Water and Climate Center."

Sarah Jane Keller reports for High Country News June 24, 2013.

Source: High Country News, 07/08/2013