How do we benefit from USGS streamgages?

Information on the flow of rivers is a vital national asset that safeguards lives, protects property, and ensures adequate water supplies for the future. The USGS is the federal agency responsible for operating a network of about 7,000 streamgages nationwide.

Data from this network are used by water managers, emergency responders, utilities, environmental agencies, universities, consulting firms, and recreation enthusiasts.

A few examples of the many uses for streamgage data include:

  • Planning, designing, operating, and maintaining the Nation’s multipurpose water management systems. 
  • Issuing flood warnings to protect lives and reduce property damage. 
  • Designing highways and bridges. 
  • Mapping floodplains. 
  • Protecting water quality and regulating pollutant discharges. 
  • Managing water rights and transboundary water issues. 

Learn more:

Related Content

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Why does the USGS use the spelling "gage" instead of "gauge"?

The spelling of “gage” is part of our very rich USGS history. In 1888, USGS Director John Wesley Powell met a very forward-thinking graduate student named Frederick Haynes Newell. Powell was so impressed that he made Newell the first full-time appointee to the new Irrigation Survey, which was created to investigate the potential for dams and...

How can I obtain river forecasts (flood forecasts)?

River forecasts (flood forecasts) are made by the National Weather Service River Forecast Centers and released through local Weather Service Offices. The NOAA website has a map showing the location of the forecast centers, their areas of responsibility, and the location of the gages they use. The vast majority of current streamflow data used for...

What is a reach?

“Reach” can have slightly different meanings, depending on how it is used. A reach is a section of a stream or river along which similar hydrologic conditions exist, such as discharge, depth, area, and slope. It can also be the length of a stream or river (with varying conditions) between two streamgages, or a length of river for which the...

What does the term "stream stage" mean?

Stream stage is an important concept when analyzing how much water is moving in a stream at any given moment. "Stage" is the water level above some arbitrary point in the river and is commonly measured in feet. For example, on a normal day when no rain has fallen for a while, a river might have a stage of 2 feet. If a big storm hits, the river...

What is a rating curve? Why does it change over time?

In order to convert water height (or “stage”, usually expressed as feet) into a volume of water (or “discharge”, usually expressed as cubic feet per second), USGS hydrographers must establish a relationship between them. This stage-discharge relationship is called a rating curve. It’s developed by making frequent direct discharge measurements at...

Where can I get real-time and historical streamflow information?

The best starting point for USGS streamflow data is the interactive National Water Information System (NWIS): Mapper website. Zoom in to your area of interest or use the search options in the left navigation window. The map displays active surface-water sites by default, but you can change the type of water site (surface-water, groundwater,...

How often are real-time streamflow data updated?

USGS real-time streamflow data are typically recorded at 15-minute intervals, stored onsite, and then transmitted to USGS offices once every hour, depending on the data relay technique used. Recording and transmission times might be more frequent during critical events (floods, for example). Data from current sites are relayed to USGS offices via...
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Date published: May 11, 2017

New Real-Time Streamgage, Reservoir, and Precipitation Sites

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) operates a network of real-time streamgages that continually record stage and streamflow every 15 to 60 minutes. 

Date published: February 1, 2017

The Vital Nature of Streamgaging

Gary Moore spent the last three days of 2015 stacking hefty bags of sand in front of a fellow church member’s brick home. With only 1,000 feet between the house and the swelling Mississippi and Meramec Rivers, Moore and other volunteers worked quickly, in frigid temperatures, to assemble a 10-foot high, 1,000-foot-long sandbag wall to ward off floodwaters.

Date published: August 22, 2016

Fighting the Floods

The USGS response to the Louisiana floods is part of the larger USGS flood science mission...

Date published: April 22, 2014

First USGS Streamgage Records 125 Years of Measuring New Mexico’s Vital Water Resources

In 1889, the foundation for modern water management began on the Rio Grande in Embudo, N.M. Today, 125 years later, a celebration was held to honor the first U.S. Geological Survey streamgage in the picturesque town located 43 miles outside of Santa Fe.

Date published: April 18, 2014

New Mexico Streamgage Marks 125 Years of Running Strong

The first USGS streamgage in the country is turning 125 years old, and the U.S. Geological Survey, along with many partner agencies, is commemorating the event on Tuesday, April 22, with a celebration at the Embudo streamgage near Espanola.

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Snowmibiles needed to get to Blackrock Creek streamgage
January 4, 2018

Snowmibiles needed to get to Blackrock Creek streamgage

Snowmibiles needed to get to Blackrock Creek streamgage

Image shows a USGS scientist in a PFD servicing a streamgage
August 31, 2017

Servicing a Streamgage at Addicks Reservoir following Hurricane Harvey

USGS scientist Jimmy Hopkins repairs a streamgage downstream of Addicks reservoir at Buffalo Bayou after flooding from Hurricane Harvey. This gauge is normally accessed on land from a platform on the side of a bridge.

December 31, 2016

Historic USGS Streamgage on the Wabash River at Lafayette Indiana

This video will provide a brief history and purpose for one of the oldest streamgages in Indiana. The gage is at the Wabash River at Lafayette, Indiana. The site number is 03335500. This video was produced at the request of the West Lafayette Parks Department where this historic gage is located. A QR code is displayed on an interpretive plaque next to the gage which is

A USGS hydrologic technician installs a Rapid Deployment Gauge in Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew.
October 8, 2016

A USGS hydrologic technician installing a Rapid Deployment Gauge

A USGS hydrologic technician installs a Rapid Deployment Gauge in Florida in preparation for Hurricane Matthew. USGS photo

Image: USGS Streamgage near Junction, Texas
April 13, 2016

USGS Streamgage near Junction, Texas

A modern 21st century version of a streamgage structure.

September 1, 2015

Hydrologist Arin Peters on Real-time Streamgage Cameras

USGS hydrologist Arin Peters shares his thoughts about the What's the Big Idea? innovation event at Kansas Water Science Center on Sept 2., 2015.

Photo of USGS streamgage measures flooding in the lower Trinity River
March 31, 2015

USGS streamgage measures flooding in the lower Trinity River

A USGS streamgage measures flooding in the lower Trinity River, Texas. 

For the first time, USGS scientists are now collecting real-time sediment and water-quality information on water traveling into Galveston Bay. A better understanding of sediment and freshwater flow into Galveston Bay is now available from a new USGS report, done in cooperation with the Texas

Image: Streamgage 13317000, Salmon River at White Bird, Idaho
May 10, 2013

Streamgage 13317000, Salmon River at White Bird, Idaho

U.S. Geological Survey hydrographer Doug Ott inspects the gagehouse at streamgage stations 13317000, Salmon River at White Bird, Idaho, May 10, 2013. The flow at the gage was approximately 40,000 cubic feet per second at the time of this photo.

USGS Streamgage Destroyed by Flood Flows
July 1, 2011

Flood Waters Take USGS Streamgage Wind River near Crowheart, WY

Gagehouse at 06225500 Wind River near Crowheart WY right before it washed away.

Jul 01 2011; 13,900 ft3/s

Image: Celebrating the First USGS Streamgage
October 31, 2010

Celebrating the First USGS Streamgage

The first USGS streamgage, at Embudo, New Mexico, just turned 125 years old.

Attribution: Water Resources
October 14, 2009

Streamgages: The Silent Superhero

Whether you drink water from your tap, use electricity or canoe down your local river, chances are you benefit from USGS streamgage information. So what is a streamgage and what does it do for you? This CoreCast episode gives you the inside scoop on your silent superhero.

Transcript and captions available soon.