Flood alarms threatened by U.S. budget cuts – ‘Without these observations, our forecast and warning operations will be impaired, reduced, or discontinued on a location-by-location basis’Posted by Jim at Friday, May 10, 2013
By Jennifer Liberto
10 May 2013
WASHINGTON (CNNMoney) – The U.S. flood alarm system is about to get smaller.
On May 1, the U.S. Geological Survey began turning off some 150 stream gauges that monitor water levels on the nation's rivers and streams, thanks to the federal spending cuts, also known as sequester.
It's a one-two punch for the flood monitoring system -- the agency could be turning off another 200 gauges because of funding cutbacks at states, cities and towns that are struggling with their own budget crises.
Water science experts warn that turning off the gauges will weaken the monitoring system that helps communities prepare for floods.
"We're trying to be very careful about which ones we say aren't going to receive funding," said Michael Norris, coordinator for the National Streamflow Information Program. The group has been been working for months to figure out which gauges are the least critical. "The last thing we want to do is put anyone's life or property in danger."
The gauges allow the National Weather Service to forecast floods and help the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers manage its water reservoirs.
"Without these observations, (our) forecast and warning operations will be impaired, reduced, or discontinued on a location-by-location basis," said Christopher Vaccaro, a weather service spokesman.
The cuts couldn't come at a worse time. Scientists have pointed that climate change has led to record floods recently, similar to the one that plagued Midwestern states two weeks ago.
Climate change continues to lead to "more unusual weather events than we used to have," said Donald Wuebbles, a professor of atmospheric sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
In fact, climate change was one reason President Obama proposed spending an additional $7.2 million to fund an extra 400 stream gauges next year, according to budget documents.
Floods kill 95 people each year and cause about $8 billion in property damage, according to the National Weather Service. Last October, Superstorm Sandy killed 72 people and caused $50 billion in damage.