As Missourians sorted through the mess left by torrential rainfall and flooding, about 20 percent of the stream gauges the National Weather Service and others use to measure floodwaters are slated to go offline due to a lack of state funding.
The United States Geological Survey Missouri Water Science Center in Rolla maintains 274 real-time gauges — 49 of which are scheduled to be deactivated after June 30.
Funding for the gauges comes from various entities, said Amy Beussink, director of the Missouri Water Science Center, among them the Missouri Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Conservation and the Department of Transportation. Gauges are paid for individually, and funding varies year-by-year depending on the priorities of the entities partnering with USGS.
The center collects, analyzes and provides water data to entities such as the National Weather Service and the Army Corps of Engineers, Beussink said.
Beussink said "a couple of different partners were dealing with budget constraints," but she was hesitant to say which entities were less willing or able to provide gauge funding. She did note that discussions about the threatened gauges began in late March or early April.
Inquiries made to DNR and the governor's spokesman were not returned Wednesday.
Beussink stressed that finding funding for the gauges was an ongoing task. "It's kind of an evolving process, and oftentimes we end up bringing a lot of different parties together."
C. Shane Barks, deputy director at the Rolla center, said information about water levels provided by the gauges can be used for numerous purposes. The water-level data is used for drinking water management, power plant operation, and infrastructure for dams, levees, bridges and roads, Barks said.
They're also used for "protection of life and property from floods and droughts" and "flood plain management and regulation," Barks said, noting that "real-time data is essential for activities that require rapid decisions, such as the issuing of flood warnings and flood crest predictions by the National Weather Service and the evacuations of persons in flood-prone areas."
The money to pay for the gauges comes from the state and draws down federal funds, Barks said, and it costs $14,600 per year to operate a gauge.
It costs money to maintain the gauges as well as to replace them if they're damaged by an event such as the recent flooding, Beussink said.
"The USGS strives to collect timely and relevant data during extreme hazards such as the flooding that is occurring currently in Missouri, and we are proud of our dedicated staff that are collecting the data during these extreme events," said Doug Yekis, who coordinates the USGS Groundwater and Streamflow Information Program.