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July 12, 2013

Schumer looks to secure river-gage funding

ELIZABETHTOWN — Sen. Charles Schumer is pressing to make money for stream gages permanent — and to increase the amount of funding.

As river and stream levels rise and jump their banks, stream gages provide vital data to local authorities. But funding for them has all but dried up.

The six remaining gages monitoring the Lake Champlain basin are funded only through Sept. 31.

BOOST SOUGHT

Schumer said the North Country has 31 important stream gages. He held a telephone news conference this week to outline his plan to put permanent budget funding in place for the measuring tools.

He is seeking $36 million for the U.S. Geological Survey stream-gage system, a $7.3 million spending increase.

He is proposing another $63 million for the USGS Cooperative Water Program, an increase of about half a million dollars from the current budget.

The additional money would install 300 new stream gages nationwide. 

Schumer said he anticipates “scores” of new gages would be added to New York’s river-monitoring system.

“It can’t be a year-to-year fight,” he said of the ongoing struggle.

“These gages read the water levels and help first-responders gather real-time data. Keeping gages in place is a small price to pay” for public safety.

It costs just over $17,000 to install the equipment, he said.

“This is not a lot of money, in federal terms.”

If the appropriation is approved by Congress, it would go into effect on Oct. 1, preserving the Champlain Basin gage system, Schumer said.

JOINTLY FUNDED

Stream-gage system funding actually comes from a blend of resources.

According to J. Michael Norris, chief of the National Streamflow Information Program, based in Pembroke, N.H., the total USGS stream-gage budget in 2012 was $163.4 million.

“Of that, state and local agencies funded 48 percent; the USGS Cooperative Water Program covered 17 percent; the National Streamflow Information Program covered 18 percent.”

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