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Sequestration Forces USGS to Shutdown Three Iowa Stream Gauges

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WATERLOO, Iowa - The U.S. Geological Survey recently found it had a tough decision to make.

Federal funding constraints from sequestration forced it to shut down three stream gauges in Iowa. It chose three that were entirely funded with federal dollars. The funding allows hydrologists to replace equipment and monitor the gauges throughout the year.

The sites are scattered across the state: Humboldt, Bedford and Finchford. Finchford is a small town in Black Hawk County. That stream gauge monitors the West Fork of the Cedar River.

The USGS said that could leave holes in the data for towns downstream like Waterloo and Cedar Falls.

"There will be several other stream gauges remaining for the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area to have some warning and help the [National] Weather Service with their forecast. This will still leave a good size hole, because that is a big watershed, the West Fork Cedar River," said USGS Hydrologist Jon Nania.

Brennen Chipp and his family live right next to the Cedar River in Waterloo. He said they still face reminders of 2008 flood.

"We still to this day we find stuff that we've lost in the flood. It's kind of sickening; you know, a lot of stuff you can replace that's gone," Chipp said.

His family checks the stream gauges online all of the time, but Nania said some data could be missing soon.

"It's kind of hard to talk about the loss of these stream gauges," Nania said.

The gauges are all over the state and monitor water levels in streams and rivers.

"It logs the data every fifteen minutes a new water level is logged and then every hour all of that is transmitted to our satellite," Nania said.

That data is presented online for everyone to track. USGS said if the three are shut down, communities nearby would receive less accurate river flood forecasts and less advanced notice of flooding.
Waterloo Engineer Jamie Knutson said he wasn't worried.

"If you take out some of those gauges, the accuracy would go down a little bit," Knutson said. "As long as you aren't removing too many, the accuracy shouldn't go down too much."

The plan is to flip the switch off on Friday, but the situation may have changed. A local funding source will likely keep two of the three sites running until the end of September. The money, however, is coming down to the wire.

"We would know tomorrow (Friday) morning," Nania said. "So, they probably will not go offline, Humboldt and Finchford, so I'm very confident they will not go offline, which is good news. [It's a] scary situation. We still have some uncertainty. The sequester isn't settled yet."

The USGS would not release who the local funding source was yet. Hydrologists pointed out that even though this money might come through at the last minute, come September 30, they might be in the position with funding. That might force them to make more tough decisions.

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