Colorado: Sequestration threatens more stream gages

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A gage along Straight Creek, near Dillon, Colorado.

More cuts possible for critical stream monitoring efforts

By Summit Voice

SUMMIT COUNTY — It’s hard enough to make water management decisions if you have all the information at your fingertips, but the job is about to get even more difficult for resource managers.

The U.S.Geological Survey recently announce it will discontinue operation of up to 375 streamgages nationwide due to budget cuts as a result of sequestration. Additional streamgages may be affected if partners reduce their funding to support USGS streamgages.

Currently, the USGS is looking at shutting down three gages in Colorado: on Halfmoon Creek, near Malta, on the Arkansas River below John Martin Reservoir and along the Gunnison River, near Grand Junction.

Even without sequestration, budget constraints required the agency to stop operating more than 100 other stream gages in the past few years, eliciting concerns from water officials who rely on the data to make decisions that affect ranchers, boaters and ski areas.

According to the USGS website on threatened and endangered gages, there are 770 stations with funding issues. That loss of critical streamflow information is almost unimaginable to some water managers who rely on the data on a daily basis.

“Every day for 21 years, the first thing I did in the morning was look at stream flow information,” former water commissioner Scott Hummer said in a previous interview. As a water manager for the State Engineer’s Office in Summit County, Colorado, Hummer made day to day decisions on turning irrigation diversions on or off, based on stream flows.

Hummer, who now is a project manager for the Colorado Water Trust, said that, if anything, more gages should be going online, given the uncertainty of climate-change impacts and the continually increasing demand on the resource.

“That information is vitally important. Those local gages, in my opinion, are invaluable. the need for accurate gaging is paramount,” he said, singling out a recent West Slope-Front Range water deal that requires accurate measurements so that both sides can uphold their obligations.

“We need to accurately know what we have so that we can manage it,” he said, adding that more collaboration is needed to ensure that all stakeholders pay a fair share toward the cost of establishing and maintaining the stream stations.

Streamgages are used nationwide to predict and address drought and flood conditions by monitoring water availability. The USGS and over 850 Federal, State, and local agencies cooperatively fund the USGS streamgaging network, which consists of over 8,000 streamgages.

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