WESTPORT — A race is on to keep stream-gage systems in place along Lake Champlain.
Congressional leaders, regional public safety officials and scientists are pressing federal authorities to find money for sustained river monitoring.
More than 30 U.S. Geological Survey stream gages (also spelled gauges) in New York state — including nine critical sites along Lake Champlain — are slated to shut down in March 2012, even though river and lake levels topped every historic mark this year.
The Geological Survey manages 7,800 gages across the country and plans to shut down 580 nationwide.
U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer (D-New York City) says the cost-cutting decision defies logic.
"Removing stream gauges on flood-prone bodies of water is like rebuilding a home after a fire and switching off the smoke detectors — it makes absolutely no sense, especially after getting hammered by floods following tropical storms Lee and Irene," he said in a recent statement to the press.
Schumer appealed to Geological Survey Director Marcia McNutt in Reston, Va., in plain language earlier this month.
"The New York flood gauges that are set to be switched off cost only $430,000 annually to operate, compared with an estimated price tag that reaches over $1 billion in damages from tropical storms Irene and Lee. Our local communities use the data (from the gauges) to plan emergency evacuations, make watershed management decisions, and make smart decisions about rebuilding following flooding that destroys homes and businesses."
His plea seeks to keep New York's system among the funded.
An equivalent sense of urgency arose at a recent meeting of the Lake Champlain Citizens Advisory Committee, which reports from this side of the lake to the Lake Champlain Basin Program.
Comprised of scientists, river association directors, water specialists from the Department of Environmental Conservation, and environmental and local leaders, the group listened to the plight of doomed Geological Survey stream-gage tools.