The federal government is pumping an extra $6 million into the nationwide stream gauge program, money that could lead to additional gauges in upstate New York.
The $33.7 million earmarked for the United States Geological Survey’s National Streamflow Information Program marks the greatest single-year increase, according to U.S. Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y.
Plans to bolster the stream gauge system coincide with news that New York state is preparing plans to bolster its resilience to extreme weather.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo last week announced 22 more communities — including some in tropical storm Irene-soaked Schoharie County — are being invited into a second phase of the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program.
The USGS stream gauge program has been struggling to maintain funding for the series of roughly 8,000 gauges nationwide that record and transmit the height of streams and rivers in real time.
The data are made available to emergency management officials and the public, and it plays a primary role in the National Weather Service’s Advanced Hydrologic Prediction Service, which warns of potential flooding.
In New York state, there are currently 13 gauges that may lose funding altogether in 2014, according to the USGS NY Water Resources office website.
The potential impact of stream gauge funding cuts became clear in 2013 when the Otsquago Creek killed a elderly woman in her home during flash flooding in the Montgomery County village of Fort Plain.
Residents had only a few minutes to evacuate when the raging creek swept through the village June 28. A stream gauge that used to monitor the creek was decommissioned years before.
The National Weather Service provides warnings to emergency management officials when creeks, streams and rivers undergo rapid changes, but there was no data from the Otsquago that day.
The USGS operated a stream gauge on the Otsquago Creek from 1949 to 1989. During that period, the creek rose reached a maximum height of 12.2 feet. The 2013 flash flooding topped that record by 7.4 feet.
The towns of Blenheim, Fulton, Middleburgh and Schoharie are being asked to develop plans of action to spend $3 million each, and those plans would be submitted to the federal government under roughly $80 million in new requests as part of a second phase of NY Rising.
This money is in addition to a total of $12 million the state earmarked for the town and village of Esperance and villages of Middleburgh and Schoharie.
“As a taxpayer I think we all appreciate this,” said Sarah Goodrich, director of the Schoharie Valley flood recovery organization SALT, formed in the wake of tropical storms Irene and Lee.
Goodrich, who chairs the Schoharie County committee drafting flood protection plans under the NY Rising Community Reconstruction Program, said more money for prevention will save money in the long run.
“Our state and federal governments are not going to be continuing to spend money that then gets washed away the next time around,” Goodrich said.
Precise dollar figures aren’t yet available, but the governor’s announcement last week also includes plans to pay for repairs to the Dove Creek flood wall in Amsterdam.
Built in the early 1900s, the flood wall is crumbling and residents along the creek have suffered property damage due to the creek for years.
Mayor Ann Thane said the development is “great news” for the city, which doesn’t own the flood wall and can’t assume the cost of fixing the structure that sits alongside a critical facility — Amsterdam Memorial Hospital.
Thane said the city engineer will be reaching out to state officials to learn how to proceed with planning repairs.