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Nancy Coplin balances her umbrella while using her phone at the Winchester Dam Fish Ladder on Monday morning. April rains raised the water in the North Umpqua River and sent wood debris over the dam.

WINCHESTER — The National Weather Service relies on the Winchester stream gauge to determine the North Umpqua River’s water level so it can determine whether to issue a flood watch or flood warning.

Water managers at various organizations depend on it for a historical record as well as a snapshot of what the river’s doing at any given time.

Anglers use it to estimate what the fish will do.

Without that gauge, government officials will have no way of determining the North Umpqua water levels in the Roseburg area. The nearest gauge upstream is in Glide and the nearest gauge downstream is in Elkton.

But the Douglas County government can no longer afford the $7,000 it has contributed annually to the gauge’s operation, and that’s a substantial chunk of the gauge’s $20,000 annual operating cost.

Douglas County Commissioner Chris Boice said with the county’s ongoing budget woes, it just can’t keep spending the money.

Boice said there are some stream gauges the county is mandated to maintain, like those related to the Galesville Dam, for example. But the Winchester stream gauge isn’t one of them.

“This particular funding falls into the same category as us having to no longer pay for and provide library services, us no longer being able to provide free dump services, us no longer being able to provide free parks to go to. It’s all really the same issue, and the fact of the matter is that the county is in a declining revenue situation and it’s becoming dire as the years progress,” he said.

The gauge has been in operation for the past 80 years. But without the county’s contribution, the U.S. Geological Survey, which pays for most of the Winchester gauge’s operation, said it will discontinue operating the gauge Nov. 30 unless additional funding becomes available.

Hydrologists from the USGS, the U.S. Forest Service, the National Weather Service and the county, along with representatives from the Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers met at the Umpqua National Forest administrative offices in Roseburg last week to voice their concerns.

Mikeal Jones, retired Forest Service hydrologist, said the organizations appreciated that the county had stepped up to the plate to contribute funding for many years.

Marc Stewart, hydrologist with the USGS Oregon Water Science Center, said USGS has about 8,000 gauges across the country and enough money to fund about one third of them.

It takes local matching money to make the program work, he said.

The other hydrologists said the federal agencies they work for don’t have money to spare either. But they and county officials are hopeful that another organization will come forward with additional funds.

Stewart said the USGS puts a lot of effort into collecting the data and ensuring it meets national standards. It takes staff time to collect flow measurements, calibrate the gauge six to eight times a year, make visits to service the gauge and maintain the information as part of a national database.

Jones recalled past floods in 1954, 1964 and 1996 and said it’s important to have the data available so people can prepare themselves to minimize the damage.

“You forget the rivers exist until they treat you poorly,” agreed Spencer Higginson, hydrologist with the National Weather Service in Medford.

Higginson said this is one of the main flood forecasting gauges in the Roseburg area.

“Certain gauges are considered official forecast points, so that’s where we issue flood warnings and flood watches for specific stretches of the river, and this is one of them,” he said.

Kevin Keller, interim director for the nonprofit Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers, said in addition to flood watches and warnings, all of the information collected by the gauge is useful for fishermen and fishing guides because they indicate when the fish will be moving.

The Partnership for the Umpqua Rivers has set up a link on its webpage, www.umpquarivers.org, in hopes of collecting donations to fund the gauge in the short term. Ultimately, they’re hoping someone steps up to provide a more permanent solution.

The Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe of Indians has stepped up to fund a temperature gauge onsite, so it will continue to function even if the water level gauge is shut down. The temperature gauge went in following the efforts of the Respect for Water Safety Committee, which hopes to prevent the drownings that can happen when swimmers don’t realize the water in the river is cold enough to be dangerous.

Reporter Carisa Cegavske can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213.

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Senior Reporter

Carisa Cegavske is the senior reporter for The News-Review. She can be reached at ccegavske@nrtoday.com or 541-957-4213. Follow her on Twitter @carisa_cegavske

(10) comments

American

It appears that many of the comments made in response to this article revolve around the misuse of funds by our local 'bloated' county government. Valid complaints, all. But I will also point out that the stream gauge operation is largely a function of several different federal agencies: the USGS, the US Forest Service, the National Weather Service, etc. In the past, they have have asked for, and received, funds from Douglas County to help offset their costs. After all, Douglas County received federal taxpayer dollars from timber sales programs, and so the federal government powers that be figured, "hey, we want some of that back" to offset expenses in our other federal agencies programs. Well, guess what: we don't get those federal dollars anymore, so we can't, and shouldn't have to, 'pony up' for it anymore. That leaves it to private enterprise and local community organizations (both for-profit businesses and non-profits) to address now. Any and all parties who are interested in having the benefits of the information gathered by this program need to step up and provide support for it. That means fishman's groups, river recreation groups, river management groups, groups concerned with water safety, etc. Perhaps the information gathered could then be 'sold' to any interested parties that haven't participated in gathering it (including other government agencies that are withdrawing their support of our stream gauge, but want information from it). It seems volunteers are once again needed to offset personnel costs from the USGS agency that currently do the work. The 'staff time' costs cited in the article seem suspiciously 'bloated' to me. What are they doing back at the office that takes up so much of their time that they don't have time to do enjoy a ride out to the stream gauge (only 6-8 times a YEAR!), recalibrate and check the reading and punch some numbers into the computer back at the office. This costs $7,000/year?! Others can do it for a lot less, I bet. BTW, thank you, Cow Creek Band of the Umpqua Tribe for your contribution of the temperature gauge. Surely technology can provide a more efficient means of gathering the needed stream gauge information on water levels electronically, that would require even less of the costly 'man-power' hours that are being utilized now.

Bjustissr

Many people and public safety agencies monitor the guages during flood season. This shutdown will just put more gawkers watching the river by car creating traffic problems. It will also create a communication problem for DCSO when people call 911. Emergency issues should not hinge on soft money from well meaning organizations.

wuforester

The County Commissioners are just big government liberals riding it out on the taxpayer's dime. They've wasted huge amounts of money that could have easily covered such an important public safety item.

CitizenJoe

The Commissioners are all Republicans.

mynamehere

I heard a story about how one of the county commissioners had his desk altered so he could store his beef jerky stash. Nothing behavior sounds too ludicrous for a politician.

CitizenJoe

“This particular funding falls into the same category as us having to no longer pay for and provide library services, us no longer being able to provide free dump services, us no longer being able to provide free parks to go to. "

No problem. There is plenty of money for a quarter-million dollars for a short video serving private interests, junkets on the taxpayer dime including (in re Freeman), will"He also spent $26 at a Portland airport bar without providing an itemized receipt showing whether he purchased alcohol. He bought a $6.99 bag of Peanut M&Ms, a Diet Coke and $9.99 worth of trail mix before a flight." Plenty of money for sweetheart deals, junkets, bar bills and what must've been very large bags of candy and trail mix; but no money for things that our Douglas County taxpayers need.

nr77

This is a very important public safety issue and they need to maintain it.

pejay89149

The County Commission can spend rural school funds for lobbying trips but they can't find funds for this important tool to be used??

CitizenJoe

Exactly. Their salaries and travel budgets are bloated while the rest of us are on a starvation diet. Please do not look at pictures of our commissioners and think of bloated.

nr77

the budgets are on the county website for all to see, every other department has had cuts while theirs is ridiculous. taxpayers should take a look study the budgets and do something about it

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