Stream Gage Networks - Enhancement and Degradation Prevention

Adding to Stream Gage Networks:

The stream gaging network can be divided into two groups. One group consists of those gages operated and maintained by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and other water resource agencies which have a published record, rating, and sometimes telemetry. The NWS does not normally provide funding to the USGS or any other entities to establish, operate, or maintain these types of stream gages. The NWS is merely a user of the data from these gages. Therefore, the NWS can only play a minor role with respect to additions to the stream gaging network. The NWS can provide a description of potential services the agency may provide, if the gage is established. These services could include: establishment of an official flood stage, quantitative river forecasts, flood warnings containing times to reach flood stage, crest height, and times to reach crest, etc. This information may be useful to the agency tasked with determining the benefits of establishing such gages.

The other group of stream gages include those in locations which have a manually read device (i.e., staff gage, wire-weight, etc.), with a limited historical record, and usually no rating. While some locations of this type are official forecast points, new locations of this type should not be established for this purpose. However, such gaging stations can provide locally useful information and the NWS can play a role in establishing this type of stream gage. Staff gage components may be purchased from the National Logistical Support Center (NLSC). Wire-weights may also be available from NLSC, but they are expensive. The installation of these manual gages requires that their exact location be surveyed relative to established geodetic benchmarks. Before establishing such a gage, a reliable observer should be recruited for taking and reporting water levels.

Adding Telemetry to Existing Stream Gages:

The NWS operates and maintains telemetry at selected stream gaging locations in support of its mission to provide flood and water supply forecasts. Generally, NWS owned telemetry is located only at official river forecast point locations. NWS resources are not adequate to support telemetry at all official river forecast points.

The NWS does not normally provide funding to other agencies to install, operate, or maintain telemetry at stream gaging stations. There are locations where cooperative agreements have been made to add telemetry to a stream gaging station. In most of these agreements, the NWS owns the telemetry equipment, but it is operated and maintained by another other agency (i.e., the USGS). This other agency is paid to operate and maintain the telemetry, by a third party (i.e., a local flood control district).

Adding telemetry to stream gaging stations can be expensive, and is therefore done only on a limited basis. All additions of telemetry should be approved by the appropriate Regional Headquarters, even if local office funds are used to purchase equipment. This is done to ensure that issues such as Electronic Technician workload and re-occurring costs, are adequately addressed. The procedure for requesting telemetry involves completing and submitting a WS Form B-43 to the Systems Operation Division (SOD). This is done whenever an office requests to establish, close, or change a Cooperative Station. All NWS owned and maintained telemetry must be part of an approved cooperative observer station.

WS-form B-43 must be as complete as possible, with the most important part of the form being the justification section. This may require attaching a separate page(s) to the form (please refer to section 4.4 of this manual for more details on WS Form B-43). The justification should include:

Note: The best type of telemetry is often site specific. This means that it is important for the requesting office to investigate the possible alternatives, prior to sending in the telemetry request.

Questions should be directed to the Cooperative Program Manager in SOD or to HSD.

Stream Gage Network Degradation Prevention:

The NWS does not normally provide funding to support the operation and maintenance of stream gages. This means that when the funding for a gaging station is lost (by the USGS, for instance), the NWS cannot provide the funding to keep the station operating. This policy may limit what the NWS can do when a gage closure becomes a possibility. However, this does not prevent the NWS from assisting the USGS or other agencies in efforts to secure gage funding.

When the NWS learns of a potential loss of funding for a stream gage, and it is vital to the hydrology program, it is important to ensure that all affected offices (local WFO, supporting SH, RFC, and HSD) are aware of the situation. The agency responsible for the gaging station (if USGS, both local and state offices) should be contacted to collect information such as, who is presently funding the gage and what are the approximate costs/year. Collectively, the NWS should then identify any and all local partners who use NWS products and may be affected by any degradation of NWS services resulting from the lost of the gage. It is important to note that the loss of a gaging station will usually result in NWS services for flood warnings being reduced to a categorical nature instead of being quantitative.

The NWS should then notify all of the identified agencies or groups which will be affected by the change in NWS services, that the gage is in peril of being closed. This notification may take the form of a meeting with the groups or agencies, a public meeting, a letter to key persons, or a combination of any and/or all of these methods. The method(s) used are site specific and must be decided, on the basis of local knowledge and familiarity with the agencies or groups. The key is for the NWS to identify agencies or groups who rely on NWS services, may fund the gage, or be in a position to influence other agencies who may fund the gage. By informing these key agencies/groups of the reduced services if the gage data is no longer available, they may be encouraged to seek or secure funding for the gage.

The NWS has been working with the USGS on a national level to secure funding for stream gages which are vital to the flood forecasting program. An initiative to provide such funding was included in the USGS budget in FY2000 and a limited amount of funds were approved for this purpose. It is hoped that in future years this initiative is expanded to cover more of the gages used in the flood forecast program.