Schumer to USGS: Keep N.Y. river gauges running

Derrick Ek

U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., criticized the U.S. Geological Survey’s plans to shut down 30 river gauges in New York, saying the move would put flood-prone areas in the Southern Tier at risk.

The USGS operates 7,800 gauges across the country, and plans to shut down 580 of them on March 1, 2012 in the face of budget cuts.

In the Southern Tier, the gauges to be shut down include:

Steuben County

• Tioga River at Lindley

• Canisteo River at West Cameron

• Tuscarora Creek above South Addison

• Cohocton River at Bath

• Chemung River at Corning Chemung County

• Chemung River at Elmira Broome County

• Susquehanna River at Windsor

• Susquehanna River at Binghamton

• Susquehanna River at Vestal Tioga County

• Susquehanna River at Owego

• Owego Creek near Owego

Schumer called the gauges a key component of the state’s flood warning system, and noted the devastation caused by flooding in the wake of tropical storms Irene and Lee this summer.

Schumer stated the following in a press release:

“In the hours preceding floods and during floods themselves, gauges help first responders and community officials keep the public abreast of the current threat. Officials can predict when rivers will crest, how much water is expected to spill into certain flood plains, and have access to a wealth of other data that helps them manage the disaster.

Additionally, flood gauges help provide data for future flood maps, monitor water quality, and help transportation planners determine the appropriate support structures for bridges, based on the water flow beneath them.”

Schumer said he understands that funding cuts were forcing the USGS to cut back its river monitoring program, but urged agency leaders to prioritize New York’s gauges and keep them operating because of the flood-prone nature of the region.

The gauges cost about $15,000 annually to run, and shutting off New York’s 30 gauges will save about $430,000 annually.

The gauges are being shut off because Congress is cutting earmarks – criticized by some lawmakers as wasteful spending – and that’s where the funding came from, said Gary Firda, a hydrologist with the USGSfs New York Water Science Center, which oversees the state’s gauges.

It’s not something USGS officials are happy about, Firda said.

Some of the gauges have been providing valuable data for decades, he noted. For example, the Tioga River at Lindley gauge has been in operation for 82 years, the Canisteo River at West Cameron gauge for 76 years, and the Chemung River at Corning for 38 years.

The National Weather Service relies heavily on the gauges to provide storm forecasting and modeling, Firda added.

Firda said the USGS was seeking other sources of state or federal funding to keep the gauges running.