WILKES-BARRE — U.S. Sen. Bob Casey came to the Luzerne County Emergency Management Agency building Friday morning to say he is pushing for more federal funding for river and stream gauges.
With rain about to fall on melting snow and memories of the 2011 flood still fresh here, Casey held a news conference to say he has written to the Office of Management and Budget director to call for increased funding for the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Streamflow Information Program in the president’s fiscal year 2015 budget.
“This funding is crucial to supporting the Susquehanna Flood Forecast and Warning System,” Casey read from his letter. “The system is crucial to the safety of my constituents and has prevented injuries and loss of life during past flooding events.”
The warning system is a state-of-the-art technological system of radar, satellite and a network of stream and rain gauges that generate data for the National Weather Service to issue flood warnings. But the future of many gauges is threatened by inadequate funding.
“Increased funding for this program will allow the USGS to protect gauges that are in jeopardy of being closed, ensure that currently funded gauges are kept in operation and add new gauges to improve the system,” Casey read.
Noting flood damage averages about $150 million a year along the Susquehanna River Basin, the senator pointed out that for every dollar the federal government invests in the system, $20 is returned through reduced flood damages and reduced payouts through the federal flood insurance program.
He said the early warnings helps residents prepare for flooding emergencies.
In his letter to OMB Director Sylvia Mathews Burwell, Casey also wrote, “The Susquehanna River Basin is one of the most flood-prone watersheds in the Nation and residents that live in the basin are still continuing to recover from the historic flooding that occurred in 2011.”
Afterward, Casey said he is pushing to increase funding above the current $33.7 million the federal government allocated for the warning system nationwide, but he did not give a specific figure.
Andrew Dehoff, executive director of the Susquehanna River Basin Commission, said it would cost $120 million to fully fund the system.
He said the $33.7 million is the government’s appropriation for NSIP for 2014. That money is distributed among the states depending on such factors as the number of gauges. The Susquehanna system costs about $1 million, Derhoff said.
Currently, other agencies fill the funding gap for the system, according to Derhoff.
He said the stream gauges are vital to protecting the 1,400 communities in the river basin, many of which are affected by flooding.
“We need to know how much is coming down the river,” he said. “We can’t do that without stream gauges to estimate river levels.”
One of those gauges is located at the North Street Bridge in Wilkes-Barre, and there are three stream gauges elsewhere in the county, Emergency Management Coordinator Stephen Bekanich said. But he said it’s not only important to maintain the gauges here but upriver, as well.
Each of the gauges costs $20,000 a year to operate Dehoff said.