Monitor Local Rivers with USGS Real Time Water Data

Published on February 24th, 2009 | by

Up until the most recent storms hit Northern California, our local river flow was well below normal.  Just gazing at the river, it was easy to tell we were experiencing drought for the third year in a row.  Just how serious the situation was did not sink until I checked the United States Geological Survey (USGS) National Water Information System (NWIS) real time and historical data for our river.

photo by roger b.Monitor real time river data with the USGS NWIS
Monitor real time river data with the USGS NWIS

NWIS provides real time data on surface water, ground water, and water quality.  Water-resources data is collected at approximately 1.5 million sites in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico by the USGS.

The types of data collected are varied, but generally fit into the broad categories of surface water and ground water. Surface-water data, such as gage height (stage) and streamflow (discharge), are collected at major rivers, lakes, and reservoirs. Ground-water data, such as water level, are collected at wells and springs.

Water-quality data are available for both surface water and ground water. Examples of water-quality data collected are temperature, specific conductance, pH, nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds.

Historical data, in addition to real time information, is included for the sites.  Take for example the river that runs through my community.  A week ago today, the South Fork of the Trinity River was running at 525 cfs.  Today, that figure is at 8,060 cfs!  The median average over the past 43 years for this time of year is about 2200 cfs. The USGS WIS website also reports the lowest recorded river levels occurred on this date 1991 (181 cfs).  This data demonstrates the significance of the storm we are experiencing.

It’s amazing what one storm can do to bring up a river, and the NWIS is a useful tool for monitoring water in both drought and flooding conditions.   Rivers are important to the health of our planet and people, and monitoring their flows and health ensures proper conservation is followed.   We cannot live without fresh water.


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