Federal Cuts Also Slash USGS Program

By Tom Bacon

While Congress rid itself and the flying public of one sequester headache Friday, it left town for a recess without addressing other programs hit by slashed funding - for example, Headstart and Meals on Wheels.

And a little-noticed, but vital federal program is being hit by mandatory cuts. The U-S Geological Survey must shut down more than 300 stream gauges that track imminent flooding or a paucity of water.

At least seven stream gauges in Idaho are threatened by the spending cuts. Most are in central and southern Idaho, but one is in the Kootenai River in Boundary County to measure outflow from Lake Pend Oreille.

Eleven gauges may be shut down in Oregon, several of them clustered around Portland and in the Willamette River valley. No river gauges in Washington are on the USGS threatened list.

There are about 8,000 stream gauges across the nation, paid for with a combination of federal, state and local money. The federal government spent about $29 million on the program last year, while other governments pitched in $116 million.

The mandatory shutdowns will start next month in Idaho and Maine, and then be extended through the summer to other states, including Oregon.

USGS officials said water levels are important for monitoring drought and keeping river-side nuclear plants operating safely. And in Idaho, whitewater rafters and fishermen use monitors to tell them where the action is.
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