Iowa’s many waterways are monitored by about three-dozen carefully-placed flood gauges, except now three of them are being switched off due to federal budget cuts. Sequestration is forcing the gauges to go idle on the West Fork of the Cedar River at Finchford, just north of Waterloo, on the Des Moines River at Humboldt, upstream from Fort Dodge, and on the East Fork of the 102 River at Bedford.
According to Jeff Zogg, senior hydrologist at the National Weather Service: “We’re concerned about the loss of all three gauges because it’s going to affect our ability to predict floods at the locations of these flood gauges as well as the locations downstream.”
The gauge near Waterloo/Cedar Falls has been taking readings for more than 60 years. It’s one of four in the area and Zogg says it was instrumental in monitoring the record flooding on the Cedar River in 2008.
“One way to look at it, imagine you have a business and you have four doors and you have a security system at three of those four doors,” Zogg says. “Three of the four doors, you know who’s coming through. The fourth door, you don’t know who’s coming through. That’s what we’re dealing with — with the Finchford gauge — we have no idea now what going to be coming down toward the Cedar Falls/Waterloo area.”
The gauges monitor both streamflow and water levels and they’ll all be shut down Friday. Zogg says several communities downstream may now receive less accurate river flood forecasts and less advanced notice of flooding due to the shutdown of these gauges.
“As far as the Fort Dodge area, with the loss of the Humboldt gauge, we’re going to lose almost half of what comes into Fort Dodge so that’s going to produce a big question mark for Fort Dodge,” Zogg says. “In Bedford, that stream is more prone to flash flooding, so we’ll have to rely on any other information sources we have to determine what’s happening in the Bedford area.”
As for whether the gauges will be restored, he says that’s a question only Congress can answer.