Washington, DC – U.S. Senators Charles E. Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand urged the federal government to fully fund the National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP) that provides advance warning of high water rises in streams and rivers to warn of imminent flooding. In a letter to the Office of Management and Budget (OMB), the Senators urged the federal government to support funding for the critical US. Geological Survey stream gauges program in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget. In New York, there are currently 31 gauges that communities throughout the Finger Lakes, Southern Tier, Adirondack Park region and lower Hudson Valley depend on, that would be effectively shut down as of March 1, 2012. With temperatures rising and melting snow causing bodies of water to swell, this could not come at a worse time for upstate New York communities.
“Flipping off stream gauges in an area prone to flooding like New York would force residents, emergency responders and local officials to tie one hand behind their backs to fight flooding, when in reality we need all hands on deck,” said Senator Schumer. “During last year’s tropical storms, New York’s stream gauges helped our first responders save lives and property and provided invaluable real-time information as the waters rose, and I am urging the federal government to fully fund these life-saving devices as they determine the 2013 budget. This investment would help ensure that numerous stream gauges across the state won’t be switched off come March and are not at risk of being shut off in the near future.”
“After New York State’s recent unprecedented flooding from heavy snow melt in the spring and the tropical storms in the summer, there is no excuse not to fund the programs that notify communities of impending flood waters,” Senator Gillibrand said. “As we have just seen this past year, flooding can damage our communities and devastate our homes, businesses and farms. It is crucial that we keep the necessary precautions in place that monitor and protect us from natural environmental changes and disasters.”
This year, with state governments facing severe budget cuts, 111 gauges are listed as “threatened” and 73 gauges are listed as “endangered” nationally with 31 being located throughout upstate New York. In total, the gauges would cost the federal government approximately $430,000 to operate annually as opposed to the estimated $1 billion in flood damages caused by Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee in New York State alone. Allowing these gauges to cease operations could put upstate New York communities at risk for future flood damage. Officials rely on the gauges to track changes in rivers, lakes and streams and are the measurement instrument used to determine when rivers are going to crest, which is essential information for New York State communities.
In a letter to the Director of the Office of Management and Budget Jeffrey Zients, Senators Schumer and Gillibrand noted that the federal government is neglecting its responsibility to fund these gauges and is relying on the states to fund this program as state budgets are facing more difficult times. Understanding and tracking water flow and levels is critical to all aspects of the economy, particularly because the information helps to improve federal disaster response to flooding, and is used to assess drought which assists in assessing wildfire potential.
The United States Geological Survey (USGS) operates approximately 7,800 stream gauges nationally. In 2011, the USGS oversaw 4,758 gauges that serve a national purpose, requiring substantial federal funding. The other gauges are part of the Cooperative Water Program and are funded equally by the federal government and state governments. NSIP gauges are used to support five federal needs for streamflow information which include gathering data to monitor weather, flooding, international and state compacts and water quality. This information is available publically and is used by thousands of private, public, and non-governmental organizations.
A copy of the Senators’ letter appears below:
The Honorable Jeffrey Zients
Director of the Office of Management and Budget
725 17th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20503
Dear Mr. Zients:
We write today about a concerning trend in a critical component of our nation’s infrastructure. The National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), which funds stream gauges deemed critical to the nation’s interest, is on an unsustainable funding path. Unfortunately the federal government is neglecting its responsibility to fund these gauges and relying on states to pay for this federal responsibility. As states face harder financial times, their ability to backfill the federal government’s financial shortfall is quickly dwindling. We urge the Office of Management and Budget to begin a positive trend in the Fiscal Year 2013 budget proposal by requesting a higher federal share of the cost of these gauges.
The USGS operates approximately 7,800 stream gauges. In the late 1990s, the USGS prioritized which gauges were of federal interest and those that were of state and local interest and divided the cost responsibility between the two. NSIP gauges support five federal needs for streamflow information including gathering information to monitor weather, flooding, international and state compacts and water quality. This information is open-source and used by thousands of private, public and non-governmental organizations. With NOAA citing more severe storms, large swings in weather patterns, more so than in previous decades, and greater pressures on ecosystems from climate change, knowing and tracking water flows is becoming of great importance to all sectors of the economy. In particular, this information helps improve federal disaster response to flooding and is used to help assess drought and thus, wildfire potential. Without this vital information, federal spending decisions will not be well-informed. This information has been collected in some gauges for 120 years, providing the information needed to make critical decisions on issues from weather to water compacts.
In 2011, the USGS oversaw 4,758 gauges that serve a national purpose and require substantial federal funding. The other gauges are part of the Cooperative Match Program, which historically has maintained a 50/50 cost share. Unfortunately the cost share has not worked and long-term gauges are being terminated by increasing cost burdens to state, private and nonprofit partners. Between 2005 and 2009, 384 long-term stream gauges, or those with a continuous record of data collection greater than 30 years, were terminated. This year, an additional 111 gauges are listed as threatened, and another 73 gauges are listed as endangered. In cases, gauges are continuing to operating only because local groups have held bake sales and car washes.
We understand and appreciate the mounting pressures on the federal budget. We firmly believe we must get our fiscal house in order, but continuing to underfund critical infrastructure will not save money and only increase costs – particularly of disaster response – in the long run. Basic science and critical infrastructure spending did not cause our mounting debt. Woefully underfunding these programs will not eliminate our debt either.
Thus we believe that OMB must put the stream gauge program on a positive trend working up over the next five years towards full funding for the federal responsibly of NSIP. Full funding for NSIP also provides flexibility for the Cooperative Match Program to work correctly, maintain long-term gauges currently set to be terminated and protect our nation’s infrastructure by having proper information to the predict floods.
Thank you for your consideration on this important issue.