December 20, 2011

In My Opinion: Congress urged to preserve gauges

All of the Champlain Valley communities that suffered flooding during this spring's snowmelt and those damaged by Tropical Storm Irene in September could be better prepared the next time such a disaster threatens homes.

But congressional budget cuts are threatening to shut down the U.S. Geological Survey's local stream and river gauges — our only early warning system for floods. That would increase the danger to local people, homes and businesses.

This is happening at a time when higher year-round temperatures are driving up the frequency and severity of big storms.

Congressman Bill Owens of Plattsburgh was the first to sound the alarm on this problem, sending a letter this summer urging the USGS to restore the funding.

While the USGS did manage to keep them open past the Oct. 1 start of the 2011-12 federal fiscal year, it still lacks the funding to keep them open beyond March 2012.

Clearly, we need more help, from both sides of the lake and beyond.

There are nine stream/river gauges slated to close in the northern Adirondack Park. Statewide, there are 21 more due to shut down in March 2012, ranging from the lower Hudson River to the Finger Lakes and Southern Tier. Six more on Long Island closed in March.

The Adirondack Council and local leaders are urging Congress and the Obama administration to replace the tiny federal appropriation that would eliminate this threat. Cuts like these should be unthinkable in the Adirondack Park. They would degrade public safety far beyond the Adirondacks and Lake Champlain.

The USGS is not a well-known agency. But if you have ever heard a weather forecaster warn you that a river was about to rise over its banks, you have benefited from its work. If you ever wondered how New York proves to federal regulators that it is reducing the amount of pollution entering Lake Champlain, the answer is USGS research and data.

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