Citing a series of devastating floods that have struck upstate New York over the past two years, Sen. Chuck Schumer said Wednesday he wants to significantly increase the number of stream gauges here, saying they serve as sentinels that can spare property from destruction.
“We, more than any other place in the Northeast, have had changes in flood patterns,” Schumer told reporters in a conference call from his office in Washington, D.C. “We have lots of streams, lots of population.”
Schumer called for the passage of the Obama administration’s 2014 budget, which would increase funding to the U.S. Geological Survey by $7.3 million and make 300 new stream gauges available nationwide.
Many of those early-warning devices are expected to go to New York, because of the risk many of its residents face from flooding, the senator said. Emergency management experts rely on the real-time data from the devices to help them determine where looming floods will have the greatest impact, he said.
“Stream gauges are the first line of defense in river flooding, and in these cases, a stitch in time saves nine,” Schumer said.
He said purchasing the gauges, which cost about $17,000 each, “is a critical and comparatively minor investment relative to the cost of repairing and rebuilding after a flood for which a community did not have time to prepare.”
Statewide, New York currently has about 200 stream gauges. “We need dozens more,” Schumer said.
According to the National Weather Service, flooding kills more than 90 Americans each year.
In the local region, most of the stream gauges are in Delaware County, which has 26 in operation. Schoharie County, which was hard hit by flooding in the wake of Hurricane Irene, has six of the devices. Chenango County has four stream gauges, while Otsego County has two, according to Schumer’s office.
The operation of the stream gauges is highly automated. But the devices require periodic calibration and other adjustments.
Schumer said the proposed funding, if approved, would go into effect Oct. 1.
Whether the Federal Emergency Management Agency will approve a request to issue a disaster declaration for the 15 New York counties that experienced flooding events following last week’s torrential rains remains unclear, he said, noting the agency must first calculate the number of households that were impacted. Otsego County is in that batch of counties awaiting the designation.
Schumer said if the higher funding level is approved, it would restore to operation those stream gauges that have been decommissioned because of earlier cuts.