Go online to track stream flow levels

Stream gauges monitor flow and help guide water resource decisions

  • Tuesday, March 18, 2014 5:30pm
  • News

Talk about wet! The Dec. 3 storm dumped record levels of rain on much of western Washington. While the Dungeness basin fortunately did not experience the severe flooding faced by other parts of the state, our local rivers and streams saw very high flows in the aftermath of the storm.

In the wet of winter, it’s hard to believe water resource managers when they say that our water supply is limited. Of course, at other times of the year – especially summer and late fall – it really is.

You might wonder: How much water is really in our streams? Who keeps track of both the high flows and low flows that concern us? And how?

Fortunately, there are some straightforward answers to these questions. Data on stream flow levels in our area is readily available. By simply logging on to the Internet, you can review current and historical flow data: highs and lows, stream by stream, year by year. Stream flow levels in the Dungeness River have been monitored as far back as 1898.

Washington has a statewide network of stream gauges –

devices placed at set locations on rivers and streams that measure and record water levels. The gauges are maintained by the state Department of Ecology and the U.S. Geological Survey. In the Dungeness basin, there are stream gauges on the Dungeness River, Siebert Creek and MacDonald Creek, and five gauges measuring irrigation withdrawals.

Almost all of these gauges are telemetry stations. They constantly collect and relay flow levels via satellite, telephone and/or radio, allowing us to access "real-time data." This means that you can go to the Ecology or USGS Web sites and find out what the water level is at a measuring station on a particular stream within hours of the actual data transmission. The data also is organized into graphs and tables that summarize a stream’s flow levels on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis.

Stream flows are measured in cubic feet per second (cfs). This is equal to a volume of water 1 foot high and 1 foot wide flowing a distance of one foot in one second. "One cfs" is equal to 7.48 gallons of water flowing each second or enough to fill eight bathtubs in one minute. A flow of 1 cfs would take 36 hours to fill an Olympic-sized swimming pool.

Why not check a gauge on a river in your neighborhood and see what the data shows? Try the Dungeness River by following the shortcut to the Statewide Flow Monitoring Network at www.

iseconsultants.net (position cursor on map over Dungeness Spit and click on station 18A050). Scroll down to the "current water-year graph" to see data from this and the prior two months.

A big spike in the graph shows that just after the recent storm, the river was flowing at a remarkable 3,650 cfs on Dec. 4. Compare this to the Dec. 4 flow last year: 318 cfs, or one-tenth of the flow. In comparison, summer flows may be as low as 75 cfs. You can monitor these fluctuations yourself and see the seasonal trends that can inform your wise water use.

Monitoring stream flow levels provides crucial data for water management decisions. When deciding how to distribute water, it is necessary to know how much is in the stream at any one time, as well as the current and historical trends.

Gathering and analyzing this data helps all of us with the decisions involved in the "instream flow and water management rule" for the Dungeness basin that will be written in the coming year.

Thanks to everyone who attended the community forum on the future management of the Dungeness watershed on Nov. 29. The second of three forums is scheduled for February.

This is the second in a series of articles to orient Sequim-area residents to the complex issues surrounding water management in the watershed. Sam Gibboney holds an engineering degree and recently worked in Clallam County as project manager for the Jimmycomelately Creek restoration. Her firm, ISE Consultants of Port Townsend, has been hired by the Washington State Department of Ecology to assist with the public process for adopting an "instream flow and water management rule" for the Dungeness Basin.

The Dungeness River Management Team, rule advisory committees and interested local groups and citizens will be collaborating with the Department of Ecology in the rule-making process. There will be many opportunities for public involvement; see announcements in this newspaper and on the Ecology Web site (www.ecy.wa.gov/programs/wr/instream-flows/dungeness.html). Questions? Contact Ecology’s Cynthia Nelson at 360-407-0276 or wria18@ecy.wa.gov, or Sam Gibboney at 360-379-4831 or sam@iseconsultants.net.

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