Funding for stream and rain gauges dries up

Ron Rickman
Ron Rickman

By Tim Sakahara - bio | email

HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - In a flash flood minutes matter, but getting an accurate look at rainfall is going to take longer.  And the National Weather Service and U.S. Geological Survey say there's cause for concern because in some areas of the state there is a big gap in data collection during storms.

Funding for 16 stream and rain gauges around the state has dried up.  The stream gauges cost $22,000 a year to operate.  Rain gauges are about $10,000.  The USGS pays for up to half of the gauge costs.  The rest comes from either city, state or other federal agencies.

"Everybody understands the needs for this information but it's just a matter of the ability to pay," said Ron Rickman, U.S. Geological Survey Supervisory Hydrologist.  "As the pot of money gets smaller and smaller to fund these it's just a matter of triage we look at the ones that are critically important and the ones that are still important but slightly less important are the ones that get dropped. I think everything we lose now is critically important."

It's a decision that could be costly come winter when warning times are affected.

"It's a problem. Our networks have decreased over the years and we're now to the point where loss of any of these gauges leads to some fairly substantial gaps," said Rickman.

"It will have an impact and it might result in a reduction in accuracy and timeliness," said Kevin Kodama, National Weather Service Hydrologist.

The National Weather Service is especially concerned because they may not know about flooding until it's too late.

"Especially in Hawaii where flash floods can occur very quickly sometimes within half an hour," said Kodama.

One specific area of concern is the Oheo Gulch near Seven Sacred Pools on Maui. It's losing both a stream and rain gauge.

"We're not going to have any other gauges in that area it's a data gap area," said Kodama.

North Kauai is another troubling area.

"Hanalei is a challenge because the radar doesn't see up in North Kauai very well because the radar is on the south side," said Kodama.

Oahu, the Big Island and Molokai will also have gauges eliminated.  To see the areas where the gauges will be cut click here

At one point in the late 70's there were 250 gauges in the state.  Now there are fewer than 100.  Some of them, like the one at Makaweli River near Waimea on Kauai, have been collecting data for 75 years but come October 1 it will stop showing data.

"When you lose a site that's been in over 50 years, 75 years, 100 years it's going to hurt because you end up with a gap in that long term knowledge," said Kodama.

Because of the threat of vandalism and theft they will remove the equipment from the sites but they'll hold out hope the money comes in down the line to start monitoring them again.

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