U.S. Geological Survey Stream, Flood and Water Monitoring Improvements


streamgage on a river
Solar-powered streamgage in Secretary’s homeland in Animas River above Tacoma, CO.
streamgage by a lake
Solar-powered streamgage in Swiftcurrent Creek at Many Glacier, Montana

American lives, property, and natural resources are all better protected because of Recovery Act investments in the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamgage network.

As historical flooding continues in the upper Midwest, the importance of USGS streamgages is all the more relevant. The USGS streamgage network is critical to providing real-time information used for making flood forecasts, determining adequate heights for construction of bridges and levees, and to emergency management agencies for deciding whether or not to evacuate cities and towns that are in danger of flooding.

Recovery Act Funding

The USGS received $14.6 million to support the streamgage network, which provides critical information used to estimate flood dangers, protect fragile ecosystems, construct safe bridges and roadways, and monitor the effects of climate change on water availability. The funds will be used to upgrade streamgages, mostly run on solar power, with new communications technology that will provide more data, more frequently. Upgrades will make data available to the public every hour, an improvement over the current delay of up to 3-4 hours.

The USGS also received $14.6 million to remove abandoned streamgages, groundwater wells and cableways. The USGS often discontinues monitoring stations when funding for the site is no longer available from a cooperating organization. Once abandoned, the streamgage structure could present a safety and health liability to the public.


The electricity production of huge hydropower dams controlled by the Bureau of Reclamation in the American West, such as the Hoover, the Glen Canyon and the Parker Dams, and other hydroelectric power producers throughout the Nation, are based on streamflow data. These data are necessary to balance how much water can be used to produce electricity with how much water is available to maintain critical habitats in the rivers and streams, as well as other downstream uses – such as irrigation and municipal supply.

Data from streamgages also give bridge engineers criteria to build and maintain safe bridges, roads and communities. Water managers use streamflow data to make decisions protecting fragile ecosystems like migrating salmon populations. Even rafters and other recreational stream users can plan trips using online streamgage information.

Streamflow information is required to determine how much water is available in different locations across the Nation so informed decisions can be made about planning for urban growth and ensuring adequate water supplies, especially during periods of drought. Because the effects of climate change on water availability could become a critical issue in certain regions of the nation, accurate long-term streamflow information is necessary to determine how water managers can respond and adapt to these changes.

For more than 125 years, the USGS has monitored flow in selected streams and rivers across the U.S. The USGS currently collects data from more than 7,500 streamgages, many of which record real-time data every 15-minutes, 24-hours a day, 365 days a year.

Further information

DOI Recovery Investments by Bureau

Last Updated: February 02, 2012
Content contact: recovery@ios.doi.gov