WASHINGTON – Potomac River levels will be monitored with the help of satellites that should help give better and earlier warning of floods, under a stream-gauge improvement program outlined Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
The real-time hazards initiative is part of the $91 million stream-gauge maintenance program, funded by state governments, the U.S. Geological Survey and other agencies.
“In urbanizing areas, watersheds change drastically, your prediction of flood levels change drastically,” said Larry Larson, executive director of the Association of State Floodplain Managers Inc., of the need for the upgraded system.
Larson was joined Wednesday by representatives of Northeast river basin commissions and conservation groups at a Capitol Hill briefing on the need for better stream gauging and flood warning systems.
Even though the improved gauges will be in West Virginia, they will help report the threat of floods and manage the river in Maryland, said Joseph Hoffman, executive director of the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin.
“Maryland is the, quote, ‘owner of the Potomac,'” Hoffman said. “[The state] is tasked with the responsibility of managing the river and is the principal user of the river.”
Not only is the state responsible for monitoring the rise and fall of the Potomac, it also allocates the river’s resources, he said, such as telling water authorities where and when they can draw water. Hoffman said that amounts to about a half-billion gallons of water a day to supply the Washington area alone.
“The gauges are basic for water allocation,” said David Conrad of the National Wildlife Federation.
Hoffman said the repairs will make water levels available more rapidly by transmitting the levels to a satellite, which will then relay the information back down to water stations. The current system relies on a person checking the gauges and then phoning the levels in to the station.
“The key to the new system is … you don’t have to worry about phone lines being wiped out,” Hoffman said.
Representatives from sporting organizations said the gauges are necessary to ensure the safety of boaters and fishermen, as well heading off flood damage.
The real-time “information is really essential for our conservation issues,” said Steve Malloch, the Western Water Project counsel for Trout Unlimited.