Streamgages: The Silent Superhero

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Detailed Description

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.


Episode Number: 106

Date Taken:

Location Taken: US


Jennifer LaVista: Whether you drink water from your tap,
use electricity, or canoe down your local river, chances

are you benefit from US Geological Survey's streamgages.
So, what is a streamgage and what does it do for you?

I met with the experts to find out more.

Matthew Larson: A streamgage is a very simple mechanical
device that measures how much water is flowing in a river.

Thomas Graziano: The streamgage data are utilized in
real time by the National Weather Service to issue

timely and accurate river forecasts and warnings
necessary to assure and promote public safety nationwide.

Joseph Hoffman: We turn on our taps and we don't
recognize where that water comes from.

Few people realize who their water supplier is,
much less that they have relied upon a streamgage

to make sure that that water gets to the customer.

Sue Lowry: They're used to turning on their tap
and having water come out without really

understanding just how intricate and involved it
is to make sure that that tap doesn't ever

run dry for them.

Joseph Hoffman: The Potomac River in the background
is shared by Maryland along with Virginia and

West Virginia and the District of Columbia.
So, they periodically have disputes that come about.

And having gage information helps to resolve some
of those discussions. In the western states,

where it's sometimes much drier than it is
in the East, they utilize gages to divide that

water up amongst the states.

Sue Lowry: The USGS is critical because they're
seen as an impartial third party.

Of course, neither states can trust the other one
to necessarily collect data that wouldn't in

some way help their position.

Joseph Hoffman: The drinking water providers need
to know how much flow there is to

base their treatment. They need to know what
the loading is, how much is coming in, what

kind of pollutants are there that they have to address.

Sue Lowry: Water needs for fisheries and ecological
purposes are also critical. The least terns and

the piping plover, those are both endangered
species that are throughout our area.

They need bare sandbars for their nesting. And so,
again, the agencies like the Corps of Engineers

needs streamflow information so that those nesting
habitats will be available and hopefully these

birds then will be able to recover.

Thomas Graziano: Streamflow information is critical
in situations of drought or low flow, as well as

in situations of high flow or flooding.
With climate change, with increasing population

resulting in increasing stresses on our limited
water supply in this country, water information is

becoming all the more important to what we do
and to decision makers nationwide.

Joseph Hoffman: Streamgage information is utilized
by engineering firms, consultants, by the federal

governments, the state governments, as they design
projects such as this bridge that we have in the

background. The river has gotten up to just over
41 feet back in 1936 with a flood they had.

So, when this bridge was built, they have to make
sure that that bridge is high enough.

Gretchen Ellsworth: Rowers, like any paddle sports,
anybody who's using the river, we need to know what

the river is doing. There are very serious
consequences we're taking when rowing boats out

into water that's too rough or too fast.

Joseph Hoffman: Into the next decade, I see the
continuing need for streamgages. I don't think

we can cut back on them. In fact, we'd probably
want to see more of them. We've got big infrastructure

problems in the US. Bridges, highways, all need
to be replaced or repaired. And we've got to utilize

gage information in order to effectively design
those replacements or those repairs.

Sue Lowry: I think there's a real misconception
out there that once you've had a gage in place

for maybe 10 or 15 years that you have all the
information that you need, when in fact, we really

need these gages to be in place for, in some cases,
100 years because there's so much seasonal

variability in how water can come off. We might
have a really dry June. We might have a wet July.

two years are exactly the same. So, unless you
have the full range of precipitation covered by

these gages, you don't have the confidence that
you really know and can project what kind of

water may be coming.

Matthew Larson: Water is probably the most
important commodity for the nation.

It's one that's underappreciated but it's essential
for life, as we know. None of us can get by

within a day or two without drinking it. And so,
knowing how much water is available in our rivers

our streams is critical for the national health.
And using our streamgages, we can monitor that flow

in rivers and know how much water is available.
It's critically important as we go into the future

and and uncertain climate, as climate change affects
the availability of water in rivers and streams

around the country.

Jennifer LaVista: To learn more about the USGS
streamgaging program, visit

That stands for the
National Streamflow Information Program.

CoreCast is a product of the US Geological Survey
Department of the Interior. I am Jennifer LaVista.