Today, U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand announced that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has set aside a portion of its disaster relief funding in order to keep dozens of stream and river gauges in the Susquehanna River Basin online, which were set to be shut off March 1st. The Senators said that these devices are critical in determining when waterways throughout the Susquehanna River Basin are nearing flooding levels.
In February of this year, Schumer identified that NOAA had received a pot of $25 million to, "improve weather forecasting and hurricane intensity forecasting," in the Sandy supplemental bill, and urged that NOAA include funding for the maintenance of the 18 stream gauges and 16 rain gauges in and around the Susquehanna River Basin in their spending plan. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission recently estimated that a mere $215,000 of NOAA's $25 million would be required to keep these stream and river gauges online. Schumer also called NOAA Director Lubchenco to urge that these gauges be included in this specific pot of funding, which fits squarely with its intended use. Additionally, Schumer worked with Appropriations Chairwoman Mikulski who has been a longtime supporter of the Susquehanna River Basin gauges and who's committee will oversee the NOAA spending plan in Congress.
"The residents and business owners living along the Susquehanna River Basin can breathe a sigh of relief knowing that dozens of stream and river gauges in the Southern Tier will be up-and-running for the coming year," said Schumer. "I'm thrilled we identified federal funding that will maintain these gauges, and better protect against property loss and casualties like what was seen during Tropical Storms Irene and Lee. I applaud the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for working to allocate approximately $215,000 to keep dozens of life-saving stream gauges in the Southern Tier online -- after Congress designated $25 million in the Sandy relief funding in order to strengthen the prediction of weather shifts and hurricane warnings. The funding is a perfect fit, and I'll continue to work on finding a permanent source of funding for these gauges."
"This is the kind of smart investment we need so Southern Tier families and businesses are fully prepared when flood waters start to rise," said Senator Gillibrand, who wrote to NOAA officials last month calling for this funding. "After the back-to-back flooding of Irene and Lee, we know these gauges make all the difference, and letting them fall to the wayside leaves us all at risk. This funding is the right priority to keep our communities safe."
On February 25th, Schumer announced that The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) had agreed that instead of March, when the gauges were slated to be shut off, the federal agency would keep them online until June 1st. USGS plans to keep these gauges online, based on confidence in Schumer's efforts to work with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to provide funding for their use through the Sandy Supplemental bill.
Stream gauges are used by the National Weather Service (NWS) to provide flood forecasting and warning information ahead of potential natural disasters. Flood gauges are essential to New York communities for a variety of reasons. In the hours preceding floods and during floods themselves, gauges help first responders and community officials keep the public abreast of the current threat. Officials can predict when rivers will crest, how much water is expected to spill into certain flood plains, and have access to a wealth of other data that helps them manage the disaster. Additionally, flood gauges help provide data for future flood maps, monitor water quality and use, and help planners determine the appropriate support structures for bridges, based on the water flow beneath them.
The serious flooding experienced in the Southern Tier from Tropical Storms Irene and Lee serve as a reminder of the vital importance of the flood forecasts issued by the National Weather Service (NWS). Without the advanced warning afforded to basin communities, residents and businesses, New York would undoubtedly have experienced greater property damage from these flood events and possibly loss of life. For example, Schumer and Gillibrand highlighted that during Tropical Storm Lee in 2011, flooding and property damage were significant, but that not a single life was lost and damage could have been far worse had advanced warning and real time data not been made available through these river gauges.
While Schumer and Gillibrand understand that budget cuts have forced federal and local agencies to scale down their stream gauge management, he believes that Irene and Lee demonstrate the importance of New York's gauges, especially in the Southern Tier, and that they should be listed as high priority that will continue to operate and be funded.
STREAM & RAIN GAUGES THAT WILL NOW BE KEPT ONLINE:
18 Stream Gauges (County, River, Location)
Broome County: Susquehanna River - Binghamton, Vestal, Windsor
Chemung County: Chemung River - Elmira
Chenango County: Chenango River - Greene, Norwich, Oxford, Sherburne
Susquehanna River - Bainbridge
Unadilla River - Rockdale
Otsego County: Susquehanna River - Oneonta
Steuben County: Canisteo River - West Cameron
Cohocton River - Bath
Tioga River - Lindley
Tuscarora Creek - South Addison
Tioga County: Owego Creek - Owego
Susquehanna River - Owego, Waverly
16 Rain Gauges (County, Location)
Broome County: Vestal
Chemung County: Elmira
Chenango County: Bainbridge, Oxford, Sherburne
Cortland County: Cuyler
Madison County: Georgetown, North Brookfield
Otsego County: Morris, Oneonta
Schoharie County: Charlotteville
Steuben County: Adrian, Bath, Corning, Thurston
Tioga County: Waverly
The NOAA focuses on monitoring oceanic and atmospheric conditions. NOAA provides vital services including monitoring daily weather forecasts and severe storm warnings, guides to the use and protection of ocean and coastal resources, and conducting research to improve understanding of our environment.
The Susquehanna River Basin is the second largest river basin east of the Mississippi River and covers large parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. It is also one of the most flood-prone watersheds in the nation -- experiencing damages in excess of $150 million on average every year. Because more than 80 percent of the basin's 1,400 plus municipalities have areas that are flood prone, it is vital to provide adequate funding for stream gauges.
A copy of Sen. Schumer's February 5th letter to NOAA appears below:
Dear Dr. Lubchenco:
I am writing today to discuss the implementation of post-Hurricane Sandy National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) projects in the State of New York. As you know, Congress passed a Supplemental Appropriations relief package for the affected Sandy states. Working with our colleagues in the Congressional delegation, we fought for the inclusion of $25 million in appropriations to improve weather forecasting. I urge you to direct the $215 thousand dollars necessary to keep 18 threatened stream gauges and 16 rain gauges in the Susquehanna River Basin active. They are threatened to shut down March 1, 2013 and provide important lifesaving weather data that communities depend on in the Southern Tier of New York.
I am aware that difficult choices must be made in allocating federal resources, but we as we have learned from Superstorm Sandy, we cannot shortchange programs that our communities rely on to keep their citizens safe and well-informed. In addition, both tropical storms Irene and Lee caused significant flooding and devastated communities throughout the Susquehanna River Basin. As these and other disasters have shown, funding stream gauges is a critical and comparatively minor investment relative to the cost of dealing with a flood for which a community did not have time to prepare.
Our local communities use the data they provide to plan emergency evacuations, make watershed management decisions, and make smart decisions about rebuilding following flooding that destroys homes and businesses. The Susquehanna River Basin Commission needs an additional $215 thousand dollars to maintain operation of nineteen stream gauges and seven rain gauges located in New York -- a small price tag for the valuable information these gauges provide.
As you craft your spending report for the Sandy Supplemental Appropriations package, I ask that you to consider the great importance of these gauges and to work with the Susquehanna River Basin Commission and the U.S. Geological Survey to provide the additional funding necessary to maintain the gauges.
I thank you for your attention to this important matter and look forward to working with you and our regional partners in the Susquehanna River Basin to maintain our stream gauges.