Government

Stream gauges measuring Iowa river levels shut down

Each gauge costs some $15,000 a year to operate

(File Photo) An excavator builds a rock weir Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, on the Maquoketa River just below the Hartwick Bridge about two miles upstream from the breached Lake Delhi dam. (Orlan Love/The Gazette)
(File Photo) An excavator builds a rock weir Wednesday, Nov. 10, 2010, on the Maquoketa River just below the Hartwick Bridge about two miles upstream from the breached Lake Delhi dam. (Orlan Love/The Gazette)

A number of U.S. Geological Survey stream gauges across Iowa were shut down July 1 because of a lack of funding.

“We deem the data they provide as essential to our flood forecasting mission,” said Jessica Brooks, a hydrologist with the National Weather Service’s Quad Cities office.

Many of the discontinued gauges were installed in 2010 or 2012 in response to the need for more gauging in Iowa after large floods.

Iowa Department of Natural Resources spokesman Kevin Baskins said funding that supports the gauges has remained about

$2 million a year since 2009, but associated expenses have increased, necessitating the cuts.

Baskins said the deactivated gauges constitute about 3.5 percent of the stream gauges maintained by all agencies in Iowa.

“We got word in May that the gauges would be shut down July 1,” said Jon Nania, a hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey in Iowa City.

Nania and Brooks said they have received many inquiries from Iowans urging that the gauges remain in operation for flood prediction and recreational purposes.

Nania said it costs about $15,000 a year to operate each of the discontinued gauges, which provide information on the level of the river and the volume of water (in cubic feet per second) passing through the gauge site.

“It’s an unfortunate situation. Those gauges are there for a reason. The data they provide improve the quality and accuracy of our flood forecasts,” Brooks said.

The deactivation of a gauge on Buffalo Creek near Prairieburg hurts flood security downstream in Anamosa, where the creek joins the Wapsipinicon River, according to Jones County Emergency Management Coordinator Brenda Leonard.

A 2008 cloudburst on the Buffalo Creek watershed just as a historic flood crest was moving down the Wapsipinicon toward Anamosa “sent us over the top,” she said. Noting that “a heads-up then would have been extremely helpful,” Leonard said the Prairieburg gauge would have provided such early warnings if it remained in operation.

Anamosa City Administrator Alan Johnson said city officials have heard complaints about the shutdown of the Buffalo Creek gauge.

“The need was recognized. That’s why the gauges were established. It’s something people expect for their tax dollars,” Johnson said.

If new partners can be identified, the gauges will be put back in service, the DNR’s Baskins said.

So far, he said, funding partners — government entities such as cities and counties —have been identified for the gauges at four locations — the Turkey River in Spillville, the Cedar River in Cedar Bluff and the West Nishnabotna and East Nishnabotna rivers, both near Riverton.

ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT

Discontinued gauges in Eastern Iowa include the Volga River in Fayette, the North Fork Maquoketa River below Bear Creek at Dyersville, the Wapsipinicon River in Oxford Mills, the Cedar River in Osage, the Shell Rock River near Rockford and Indian Creek in Marion.

The Indian Creek gauge is more important for putting out local flash flood warnings than for river flood prediction downstream on the Cedar, according to Brooks.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.

Give us feedback

We value your trust and work hard to provide fair, accurate coverage. If you have found an error or omission in our reporting, tell us here.

Or if you have a story idea we should look into? Tell us here.