Commission discusses Buckhannon River Gauge Project

Buckhannon River during the Jack Barker Canoe Race in May of 2022

BUCKHANNON — Upshur County Commission heard a presentation regarding the Buckhannon River Gauge Project during their meeting on Thursday, September 8, at the Upshur County Courthouse Annex. The presentation was given by Nick Webb, Senior Service Hydrologist for the National Weather Service and Steve Wykoff, Director of Emergency Management for Upshur County.

For reference, the American Meteorological Society defines river gauge as “a device for measuring the river stage.” River gauge may also be known as stream gauge. A river stage is defined as “the level of the water surface in a river with reference to some datum.” Datum can be referred to as a base elevation which is used as a reference point of heights or depths. A gauge station records the river or stream stage continually, most often every 15 minutes. The information is then transmitted via satellites or cellular connection to a server.

So, what does a river gauge actually do? Well, gauge information is used in computer models and forecasts. This can help determine and more accurately predict floods. The United States Geological Survey (USGS) explains further stating, “Gauge height is used in computer models and forecasts, including flood inundation maps and flood forecasts. Flood stage, officially defined by the National Weather Service, can be thought of as the stage (or gage height) at which overflow of the natural banks of a stream begins to cause damage in the local area from flooding. The National Weather Service uses gage height numbers to tell the public about different levels of flooding hazard. Therefore, gage height values are commonly understood by water managers, emergency responders and public citizens.

“Where National Weather Service flood stages are available for USGS sites, we overlay those flood stages as horizontal lines on our gage height hydrograph, allowing users to instantly see how close the gage height is compared to known National Weather Service (NWS) flood stages near the location of the gage. Where data are available, users can also use the Flood Inundation Mapper tool or the Interagency Flood Risk Management tool to visualize what flooding will look like at different gage heights.

Knowing the data from a river gauge can help people prepare. Another statement made by the USGS said, “For example, a rancher may choose to be notified when the stream by their property exceeds a nearby gage height of 5.2 feet, so that they know it may be time to move their livestock farther from the river. A homeowner may choose to be notified when a gage height exceeds a certain value to be alerted that a nearby road may become flooded. An emergency responder may wish to receive alerts to know when to take particular actions such as closing a roadway. A farmer may want to know when a stream water level drops below a certain level as it may affect an irrigation intake pump.”

With the basics and benefits described above, the information from the presentation will make more sense. Within the presentation the following is noted. There is currently a radar gauge and wire-weight attached to Hall Road Bridge. It is linked to a Satlink GOES radio/datalogger houses in cinder block shelter. A Pluvio rain gauge attached to top of shelter which was established in 1969. There is also a wire-weight gauge attached to Poe Bridge.

It was reported that the NWS River Gauge website can be viewed at https://water.weather.gov/ahps2/index.php?wfo=rlx. This webpage will include current observations for all of USGS river gauges, river forecasts for select river gauges, probabilistic forecasts for select river gauges and precipitation analysis. Additionally, the webpage can reveal routine forecasts available out to five days with forecasts issued daily. This information is provided by the River Forecast Center in Wilmington, Ohio. Sophisticated models can incorporate details, such as soil moisture, precipitation that has fallen, 48-hour precipitation forecast, terrain and slope levels and gauge’s rating curve. However, it was reported that Buckhannon is not currently supported by the River Forecast Center.

The presentation revealed that currently NWS Charleston provides the forecasting support for Buckhannon. It was declared that this model is dated and only provides forecasts for high water events. It was also reported that it does not account for future precipitation and past precipitation is estimated. The rating curve for this system is roughly 50 years old.

With an update to the Buckhannon River Gauge, the community would receive full River Forecast Center support. It would also provide routine daily forecasts out to five days and be more accurate. According to Webb, it “would allow for better planning and response from city officials and emergency management during and after expected high water events.”

Webb also answered the question, “What is need to upgrade gauge?” Webb provided that in order to have River Forecast Center support, “Buckhannon River Gauge needs an updated rating curve, USGS needs two to three years of flow data, rating curve needs to be dynamic to adjust for sediment deposit and channel characteristic changes, and the radar gauge needs to be upgraded to include flow and discharge rates.”

So, what is the cost to upgrade? According to Webb’s presentation, the annual operating and maintenance costs are $5,650 for stage only, currently funded by Pittsburgh Corps of Engineers (COE), $17,010 for full discharge, with a gap of $11,360 needed. However, it was reported that the Pittsburgh COE has agreed to fund the upgrade which means no cost to the City of Buckhannon or to Upshur County.

According to the City of Buckhannon’s website, “A significant portion of the City of Buckhannon is within a floodplain. This page provides information, mapping tools and other links that are designed to provide the resident with a good source of information regarding FEMA and local flood requirements. The city also maintains a general packet of information that is free: you can pick one up at the front counter at City Hall or request one to be mailed by calling or emailing City Hall. Please contact City Hall should you have questions or require assistance. Call (304) 472-1651 or send an email to [email protected]

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