- The Washington Times - Monday, October 28, 2002

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. Several state agencies have agreed to put up the money to keep stream-flow gauges in operation, and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has said it will continue posting data online but will relinquish the maintenance of some devices.
After a private meeting in Charleston on Friday, state Emergency Services Director Stephen S. Kappa said the deal satisfies everyone involved, including businesses and government agencies that rely on the current and historical water-flow information the USGS maintains.
Under the new arrangement, the state will take over 10 gauges it already owns and use $92,000 in savings to install new river and rain gauges in counties that have none or need more.
The USGS will continue to operate others through a long-standing arrangement with the state and the Army Corps of Engineers.
Mr. Kappa would not immediately identify the agencies that have agreed to help fund the project, saying a deal secured only by handshakes still needs the approval of department directors. There also may be some changes in the amount that each agency contributes, he said.
"We will make this happen," he said. "We just need to get all the money together and send them one big check."
The USGS had announced earlier this month on its Web site (www.usgs.gov) that it would shut down 18 gauges on the Potomac, Cacapon, Blackwater and other rivers on Thursday because the state had cut funding for the project.
Ten of the gauges are owned by the state, six belong to USGS and two belong to the corps.
Mr. Kappa said he had received e-mails from about 15 people who were worried about losing the detailed information kept on the USGS Web site. Stream flow information is vital to kayakers, canoeists and fishermen, and to engineering companies that design highways and bridges.
"It was never intended for those gauges to be removed or terminated," Mr. Kappa said. The warning of the shutdown was "simply not factual."
Ron Evaldi, who oversees the gauge network for the USGS, said his agency was required to post the warning for public safety reasons. He, too, got calls and e-mails from environmental groups, agencies and others who rely on the data.
"This will solve the difficulty for this year, and we hope the statewide flood prevention task force recommendations will be approved and provide a stable funding base for the future," Mr. Evaldi said. "That's always been the problem in West Virginia; the funding comes and goes."
Among the issues the agencies had to work out yesterday was whether the state-run gauges would continue to record historical flow data used for such things as defining a 100-year flood plain and guiding construction projects.
Although other state agencies need that information, Mr. Kappa said the Office of Emergency Services needs the information only to warn people of impending floods.
"The Office of Emergency Services recognizes the importance of having stream flow data available for monitoring and predicting flood plains and droughts, as well as for planning of fishing, whitewater rafting or kayaking," he said. "This need is now balanced with the need to expand the present flood warning system without incurring additional costs."
The USGS has operated stream gauges around the nation since 1987 and has about 108 in West Virginia. The state has its own network of 38 gauges, used mainly for flood warning.
"Nine counties have no gauges whatsoever," Mr. Kappa said, "and we're looking at a strategy to increase the number of gauges without going back to the legislature to ask for more money."
Those nine are Clay, Hancock, Brooke, Pleasants, Ritchie, Wirt, Wood and Monroe. Elsewhere, the state has 38 of its own gauges in place, but it needs as many as 40 more particularly in flood-prone counties such as Preston, Grant, Hardy, Summers, Wyoming and Kanawha, Mr. Kappa said.
John Norris, who runs Potomac Outdoor Expeditions with his son in Hancock, Md., is among the countless business people, property owners and outdoor enthusiasts who count on the stream gauges for survival.
Mr. Norris organizes float trips from Spring Gap, Md., to Big Pool, Md., and takes frequent calls from canoeists planning outings of their own on the Potomac River.
"I've got people out of the D.C.-Baltimore area out here every weekend, and they judge their movements on that information," he said.
The South Branch and Cacapon affect the levels of the North Branch, so looking at just one set of gauges would give an incomplete picture.
"If there's a big storm at Moorefield, by the time that water gets down here, 6 inches of rain could cause the river to reach 5 or 6 feet," Mr. Norris said.
"Our biggest concern is the safety of our customers," he said. "We would be operating in the blind, so to speak, if the information was not available."

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