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September 27, 2008

 

Tioughnioga River gauge in jeopardy

Data about the river may dry up as Army Corps of Engineers faces funding cuts

By CATHERINE WILDE
Staff Reporter
cwilde@cortlandstandard.net

A stream gauge on the Tioughnioga River at the end of Elm Street in Cortland used to predict and measure flooding may be discontinued in October due to a lack of funding.
Ed Bugliosi, Ithaca office chief for the United States Geological Survey, said the Cortland gauging station is particularly crucial because it has been in operation for 71 years.
“The long-term gauges are becoming critical for looking at effects of climate change. To discontinue that data stream for that long-term period, statistically and looking at trends it messes things up,” Bugliosi said.
The gauge is also important for forecasting floods and is used for educational purposes.
The Army Corps of Engineers, which splits the cost of operating the gauge with the state Department of Environmental Conservation, may be forced to withdraw its portion of the estimated $16,210 to run the gauge for next year.
The corps had its funding for river gauges cut nearly in half for the 2009 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
The corps has received $543,000 to use for funding river gauge projects in only the most critical areas. It received approximately $900,000 last year and provided $8,600 for the Tioughnioga River gauge.
The shortfall would result in the gauge being run at a lesser grade or discontinued altogether, said Lynn Szabo, data section chief for the Ithaca United States Geological Survey office.
“It would potentially have to be run at a far lesser grade so we probably wouldn’t have real-time data available or we wouldn’t have a continuous flow, we may only have a peak flow,” Szabo said.
Maintaining the gauge in a reduced capacity would depend on the DEC’s willingness to contribute despite it not being a full-time station.
“It really needs to be a full-time, continuous station to get any really good data,” Szabo said.
The Ithaca USGS installs, operates and maintains the river gauges, providing flow data for the western part of the state from Utica to Jamestown. The office provides flow information to the public and weather agencies.
These operations would be threatened in the areas served by the gauges of the upper Susquehanna River basin, given the anticipated cuts in congressional funding.
“Under our flood reduction program we were able to provide funding for those gauges that are critical to our flood management responsibilities and Cortland’s is not one of those,” said Chanel Weaver spokeswoman for Army Corps of Engineers’ Baltimore district.
The Army Corps of Engineers in Baltimore helps fund gauges in New York, Pennsylvania, West Virginia and Ohio in its mission to prevent $4.3 billion in flood damages in those areas yearly. Weaver said the corps is working to identify additional funding sources for the 29 river basins that have not been identified as critical. The corps is striving to obtain $900,000 in total funding for its river gauge projects and is forming a task force to look for funding for the remaining stream gauges.
“That would give us the funding we predict we need to maintain the type of money we did last fiscal year for the rest of the river gauges,” Weaver said.
A meeting of the cooperative gauging network, which includes federal, state and local agencies that provide funding for these gauges, is scheduled for Monday. Representatives from the USGS, the National Weather Service, the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, the Army Corps and the DEC will all attend.
Barbara Watson, director of the National Weather Service forecast office in Binghamton, said the service depends on the real-time data of river gauges to issue flood warnings and produce forecasts.
“Without it, it would impact our ability to gather accurate information and produce accurate forecasts and warnings,” Watson said.
She said the Weather Service can estimate rainfall by use of radar or computer models but it is not as accurate as real-time data.
County Emergency Management Coordinator Brenda DeRusso said she relies heavily on the gauge as a monitoring tool in the event of a potential flood.
“(Discontinuing the gauge) would be a real setback in my ability to help our community,” DeRusso said.
She said information that the gauge provides is posted as a chart on the National Weather Service’s Web site, providing crucial information at a glance so people can know how to prepare for high water situations.
“Rather than having to call me to determine what to do they can look at this and see when the flood is predicted, where to go and what to do. It is instrumental in helping people help themselves.”

 

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