09.26.13

[BREAKING] With Time Running Out For Champlain Basin River Gages, Leahy Announces Funding Solution To Keep Them Operating

Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) announced Thursday that agreements are being finalized among key partners to prevent the looming shutdown of several U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) river gages in the Lake Champlain Basin.  Leahy for years has been the driving force in keeping the gages operating.  The measuring devices have become vital tools in monitoring water quality and flood dangers, as seen during Irene and again in this year’s flooding.  

The Lake Champlain Basin Program (LCBP) Steering Committee last week agreed to reallocate funds from other programs to keep five of the threatened gages operating for another year.  Leahy said this new funding, along with other pending agreements, should keep all of the existing river gages in the basin in operation at least through 2014.  Leahy was instrumental in directing 2013 federal support to the LCBP.

Leahy said:  “These gages inform all of our water quality work in our rivers and lakes.  Water quality managers, fisheries workers, farmers, emergency responders, boaters and many others use the gaging data every day.  I thank the states of Vermont and New York, the Champlain Water District, the Basin Program and other agencies that have stepped in to fill the funding gap and keep this important information flowing.  The collection of basic geological information has been a fundamental federal role since President Thomas Jefferson sent Lewis and Clark into the West.  We have had seven major flooding disasters strike Vermont since 2011, and we need stream flow and lake level data now more than ever before.”

The stream gaging network in the Champlain basin is operated by USGS and in the past has been paid for by the agency, with costs also shared by the states of Vermont and New York, the National Weather Service, and hydroelectric operators, as well as through annual funding secured by Leahy, the most senior member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.  With the end of earmark funding in 2011 and increased tightening of federal budgets, more than a dozen gages in the Champlain basin were scheduled to be closed as early as October.  Several partners have stepped forward to pick up larger shares in funding the gages, including the Vermont and New York state agencies, the Champlain Water District (CWD), and now the LCBP.

This is the first time that the Champlain Water District will help pay for the gage on the LaPlatte River in Shelburne.  Jim Fay, General Manager of the CWD, said:  "Maintaining the information from this LaPlatte River station will continue to allow CWD to proactively manage its overall drinking water treatment and supply network to our Chittenden County customers."

One of the gages to be funded by the LCBP is at the Rock River in Franklin County, Vt.  Hundreds of thousands of federal, state and private dollars have been invested in agricultural water quality work in the Rock River basin in recent years, and the USGS gage data is needed to measure the effect of this work and to guide future efforts. 

The LCBP Steering Committee approved the funds contingent on funding agreements to be finalized with other key stakeholders, and a commitment to work toward a more sustainable approach to river gage funding in future years.  Vermont DEC Commissioner and LCBP Executive Committee Chairman David Mears, who lead that effort, said:  “We are pleased that the Lake Champlain Basin Program and Senator Leahy have developed a funding approach that will keep these stream gages operating, given their importance to our efforts to protect Lake Champlain.  We are committed to working with the USGS to find a long-term solution to their funding problem so that we do not face this problem again.”

Kim Greenwood, Water Program Director of the Vermont Natural Resources Coalition, said:  “These gages are fundamental to ensure that Vermont's waters are protected based on actual data.  It's impossible to overstate how critical this information is.  It enables us to predict floods and prevent property damage as well as track and measure pollution.  All Vermonters rely on this information and we thank Senator Leahy and applaud the efforts involved that have made this happen.”  

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