Federal funding lapse to cost region river flood gauge

Monday, Aug 10, 2009 4:01 PM
Last updated 6:35 PM
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A lapse in federal funding will eliminate a key U.S. Geologic Survey monitoring gauge on the Savannah River that is used to warn of pending floods.

“It is certainly not one we want to lose after so many years of important record,” said Eric W. Strom, director of the USGS Water Science Center in Columbia, in an e-mail to emergency management officials.

The gauge, located in the river at its confluence with Butler Creek, costs $15,500 per year to maintain, but its funding ran out July 1.

Mr. Strom said the USGS could still provide $6,200 to operate and maintain the device, but the remaining $9,300 would have to come from another entity.

“If it is another federal agency we would not be able to put up matching funds,” he said, noting that a state or municipal government would be eligible to provide funds that would quality for the USGS match.

The potential loss of the gauge could affect both forecasting and the issuance of flood warnings, said Kimberly Campbell, meteorologist in charge of the National Weather Service office in Columbia.

“The closure of this gage would have a major impact on the National Weather Service flood warning and streamflow forecasting capabilities for the City of Augusta and residents and businesses downstream from the gage on the Savannah River,” she wrote in a letter to city officials. “The NWS ability to provide timely and accurate flood warnings and forecasts for the City of Augusta and surrounding areas on the Savannah River is highly dependent on the hydrometeorological information provided by this USGS river gage.”

Pam Tucker, emergency services director for Columbia County, said the gauge and its data are most important to Richmond County, which is more vulnerable to flooding than nearby counties.

“Even though we haven’t had flooding on the river in metro Augusta since 1998, it could change anytime,” she said. “Weather goes in patterns, so those patterns could eventually repeat themselves.”

National Weather Service records indicate recurring periods of wet weather that will almost certainly bring flood hazards to the area again. Tropical weather systems also can bring flood hazards to the region, although the past few years have been marked by drought and rainfall deficits.

The Butler Creek station, Ms. Campbell said, has a long history dating back to 1796.

Real-time stream flow data is essential to the issuance of accurate river, flood stage, crest, low flow and water supply forecasts that are issued by the NWS. Without real-time stream flow data from the Augusta gauge, the NWS will be forced to discontinue the issuance of river stage forecasts on the Savannah River at Augusta.

“The National Weather Service will do all that it can to provide weather and flood warnings with information that is available. If the gauge is discontinued, we will continue to issue the more general Flood and Flash Flood Warnings as warranted for ungaged streams and rivers,” she said.


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