Lending a Hand During COVID-19: Maintaining a Streamgage on the Canadian Border

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When USGS personnel were prevented from accessing one of our streamgages along the U.S.-Canadian border, the Water Survey of Canada stepped in to help clear debris from our streamgage and ensure it was collecting accurate data.

Our name may be the U.S. Geological Survey, but water science doesn't stop at the U.S. border. We rely on our international partnerships and truly appreciate the (sometimes unexpected) assistance they provide.

USGS streamgage 12212390 Bertrand Creek at International Boundary is located along the U.S.-Canadian border, but it actually resides on Canadian land. The only way to access the Bertrand Creek gage is by crossing the border into Canada and travelling about three miles. Like many USGS streamgages, this site requires frequent maintenance to clear debris from the channel to ensure proper functioning. Each summer, this gage experiences significant low-flow backwater due to sticks, limbs, and grass getting snagged on the concrete control. Regular in-person measurements are also necessary to ensure an accurate discharge record is being collected. The streamflow data from this gage are used by Whatcom County Public Works, WA, to make management decision related to water availability and salmon habitat protection.

But on March 21, 2020, Canada closed its border with the U.S. to all non-essential traffic to help reduce the spread of COVID-19 between our two countries, we needed a new way to maintain the gage and obtain discharge measurements. Fortunately, our counterparts at the Water Survey of Canada offered to visit our streamgage to verify gage height, make a streamflow measurement, and clear any debris - and it’s a good thing they did. On their first visit, they removed debris that was causing discharge to be overestimated by 20%. Thanks to the Water Survey of Canada’s efforts, we were able to adjust our computed flows accordingly. So far, they have visited our gage twice and eliminated the need for USGS employees to cross the border during the pandemic.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has created a lot of disruption in the way we normally do business, some of that change has led to innovation and the development of partnerships created to get the work done. Once the border is open again, the USGS will resume direct maintenance of the Bertrand Creek gage and continue working with the International Joint Commission Boards of Control, comparing notes about operations and sharing data to provide quality assurance for the monitoring we jointly do along the British Columbia/Washington border.

The Bertrand Creek gage, located northwest of the town of Lynden, WA, is operated by the USGS Washington Water Science Center.

Scientist stands in a stream under an overpass taking a measurement.

Photo of Peter Bi, a hydrometric technician with Water Survey of Canada, making a wading measurement at the Bertrand Creek streamgage. (Credit: Jaime Bree.)