Thursday, July 26, 2012

Adirondack Maps: Mapping Drought Conditions

It’s been a bit surreal to read about this summer’s record-breaking drought from the lush, thunderstorm-drenched environs of Long Lake.  But while the central Adirondacks may have had plenty of rain this summer, other parts of the North Country have not.

I have been tracking drought conditions across the region with stream gage data from US Geological Survey that measures stream levels and transmits the information in real-time to the internet.   The USGS began stream gage construction in the late 19th century, and now maintains 7,500 gages across the country including dozens in the Adirondack region.   The data from these gages are used for many purposes including flood forecasting, water supply allocation, wastewater treatment, highway engineering and recreation (rafting anyone?).

I wanted to overlay streamflow data over other maps of regional interest, so I wrote some code that brings the USGS stream gage map into our Adirondack Regional Geographic Information System (ARGIS).

You can find the “USGS Streamflow (Real-Time)” layer in ARGIS under the “Water” category.  The gages are color coded so that you can quickly see if water levels are above (blue) or below (red) normal.  Clicking on gages on the map gives you more information, including a link to a USGS page with all sorts of information including a real-time graph of stage height.
USGS Stream gage chart
Unfortunately, funding for USGS stream gages is again under attack, despite the incredible value of the information for the price.   Here’s a quote from the USGS site:
NOTICE (07/12/2012) — Budget shortfall may result in loss of some critical streamgages. There is no funding, beginning October 1, 2012 (Fiscal year 2013) to support 19 streamgages in the New York portion of the Susquehanna basin Flood Forecast and Warning System and 6 lake and streamgages in the New York portion of the Lake Champlain basin. If no funding is identified, these sites will be shut down on March 1, 2013. These 25 gages are in addition to 6 streamgages slated to be shut down January 1, 2013 and the 8 streamgages that were shut down already because of funding shortfalls.


It says a lot about our societal values that items like this are continually on the chopping block despite their obvious value, especially as we face upheavals in weather patterns due to climate change.   Enjoy the data while it lasts.


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Steve Signell is the owner of Frontier Spatial, L.L.C., an Adirondack-based company offering mapping and data services. He splits his time between Schenectady and Long Lake, where he punctuates his time at the computer with stints on the fiddle and banjo.

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