BOISE, Idaho — The government’s automatic budget cuts are taking down up to 150 of the nation’s stream gauges — devices that provide life-saving flood warnings and help scientists track drought conditions. The first round of nationwide closures started this week.
These streamside outbuildings shelter data-gathering equipment so it can be fed to satellites. They track temperature, stream flows, and pollution levels.
Stream gauges aren’t getting the same sequester-cut attention as airport control towers or Headstart classrooms. But for scientists, it stings to see them swept away by spending reductions.
“To lose a gauge would be like losing a member of the family, almost,” said John Clemens of the U.S. Geological Survey.
The USGS managed to avoid shutting down stream gauges in Washington state, where Clemens works. Idaho and Oregon weren’t so lucky. Each had to shut down three gauges due to across-the-board-budget cuts known as the sequester.
Scientists use stream gauges to determine how much water will be available for the hundreds of hydroelectric dams. The data helps drive decisions about when farmers should draw water from rivers to water their crops; The recreation industry use stream-gauge information to decide when to fish and when to go rafting.
Watch: Meet One Of Idaho’s 100-year-Old Stream Gauges