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Eye On Boise

Three Idaho stream gauges to shut down May 1, but Riggins gauge spared from cut…

It now looks like three stream flow gauges will be shut off May 1 in Idaho, according to the USGS Idaho Water Science Center, down from the five originally expected to be shut down due to sequestration budget cuts. “It’s still something of a fluid issue in terms of exactly how much the cut was going to be,” said Michael Lewis, the center’s director. He’d been anticipating a 7 to 8 percent cut in a federally funded program that supports 31 stream gauges statewide, but just learned last night “we’re probably looking at a 5.2 percent cut.”

That means two gauges that had been targeted for closure won’t be, on the Little Salmon River at Riggins and on the Little Lost River near Howe. The Riggins gauge is a popular and heavily watched one. “It’s certainly critical for the recreational industry of whitewater rafting, kayaking, fishing,” Lewis said. Since the USGS posted a notice that the gauge could be shut down, “I’ve heard quite a bit from the public,” he said. The gauge near Howe is the only gauge on that river; it’s considered critical for water rights administration and agricultural irrigation.

Still on the hit list: One in southeastern Idaho in the Snake River drainage at the Gray’s Lake Outlet; one on Lapwai Creek near Lapwai in north-central Idaho on the Nez Perce Reservation; and one on the South Fork of the Clearwater River near Elk City.

All play important roles in scientific monitoring and are used by various agencies for fisheries management, flood forecasting and more. Lewis said seven of the 31 gauges in the program have 100 years or more of continuous data. “From a scientific perspective, that is absolutely invaluable,” he said, reflecting stream flows through a wide array of climate and hydrologic conditions. The three targeted for shutdown have a “shorter period of record” of between 26 and 41 years.

By shutting down the three stream gauges, the USGS will save about $23,000 between May 1 and the end of the federal fiscal year Sept. 30. Each gauge requires eight to 10 site visits a year by technicians for maintenance and calibration; they also transmit data to the USGS that gets posted on the agency’s website for public use.

Lewis said he’s “cautiously optimistic” that the stream gauge shutdowns won’t be permanent. The program long has had strong bipartisan support in Congress, he noted. “I think once we get through the sequester, hopefully we’ll see the budget come back for those gauges.”

The USGS operates a total of 236 stream gauges in Idaho, with a variety of funding sources; the one that’s getting cut is the National Stream Flow Information Program, which is fully federally funded and supports 31 stream gauges statewide. 

Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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