The budget item for “volcano monitoring equipment” ridiculed by Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal on the teevee last night is actually for all of the data collection equipment operated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). Most important and numerous of these are stream gages.
The USGS has thousands of stream gages all over the country, and 230 in Jindal’s own state of Louisiana. You can get real time data on these on-line, 24-7. My bookmarked one for Maine is here. Check it out.
For a century, USGS stream gages were a stick in a stream bolted to a bridge abutment that measured the height of the stream at that spot, at that moment. Once a day or once a week a person would look at the stick and write down the number where the water touched the stick into a log book which was sent once a year to the USGS. This data collection is our only source of information about the long term flow behavior of our nation’s rivers and streams, which is critical for calculating their flood potential and risk.
Today, an electronic sensor takes the place of the stick. Using solar panels for power, these gage stations relay the water level measurements via satellite to the USGS and to their servers so anyone can get the data instantaneously. Many gage stations are also equipped with automatic air and water temperature sensors as well. All of this stuff is stored in USGS computers and becomes part of the historic data record for that gage station, which can be retrieved by anyone at anytime with an Internet link.
In my profession as an advocate for rivers and migratory fish populations, the data gathered by the USGS gage stations are priceless. USGS gage station data are the core of many legal actions I have taken to protect rivers from pollution and dewatering. This stuff is irrefutable in court.
These gages cost a lot to keep working and maintained, just because there are so many of them. They are one of the most important data gathering networks the U.S. has.
Stream gages are also the only way to accurately predict the severity of a flood — before it happens. Without modern, operating stream gages and real time link-ups via satellite and computer, you’re blind. You’ve got nothing to predict the actual progress of a flood and make critical evacuation decisions. Having this data at your fingertips can determine if people live or die.
That’s what a lot of the $140 million is for that Gov. Jindal ridiculed. Saving peoples’ lives from floods.
Seems Gov. Jindal’s rather moist, river and bayou studded state could use this type of fancy water height measuring stuff. Especially given that a tiny little crick called the Mississippi flows almost sort of close by. And especially given that Jindal believes in the literal truth of a certain very large flood destroying the entire flat Earth.
And Golly Gosh in Galoshes, here’s the stream data shizzle for Louisiana !!!
UPDATE: I do not mean for the above to diminish the importance of the volcano monitoring equipment operated by the USGS. Just the opposite. Aa and pahoehoe !!!
Pele/Jindal 2012 !!!