THURMOND -- Responding to the federal budget sequestration, the U.S. National Park Service was forced to slice and dice various services they provide, including full funding of the river gauge along the New River.
Avid recreational types and commercial rafting outfitters consider the gauge, which is located near the railroad tracks in Thurmond, the most widely used gauge in the state. Some say suspending service at this particular gauge would be devastating from a logistical and safety standpoint.
The U.S. Geological Survey maintains the state's 144 river gauges and records hydrological data that can be seen on the USGS website, www.waterdata.usgs.gov. This data includes water flow, stage and volume.
The Thurmond gauge in Fayette County is the only gauge along the New River. Various commercial rafting outfitters, including ACE Adventure Resort and Adventures on the Gorge, use the data from that gauge to determine if the river is safe for their whitewater expeditions. Many kayakers and rafters nationwide look at the data from the Thurmond gauge to get an idea of what the water will be like underneath the New River Gorge Bridge, a section of the river that attracts more than 120,000 rafters each year.
The USGS can authorize to pay up to 50 percent of the river gauges' operational costs as long as there are additional federal, state and local funding partners. In West Virginia, there are more than a dozen gauges that have been defunded, and therefore are not calibrated annually and can only record stage levels. Those gauges that have continued to be funded record both stage and volume levels and are said to be recalibrated up to six times a year in order to refine their numbers.
The gauges record water data between 15 to 60 minute intervals. That information is transmitted via satellite to USGS offices every one to four hours. All current and historical data can be viewed on the USGS website.
Patricia Kicklighter, New River Gorge National River superintendent, said the National Park Service has historically funded the river gauge along the New River but because of budget cuts, the service could not continue to fund the gauge 100 percent.
"The USGS raised the operational cost of the gauge and our budget went down," Kicklighter said. "We notified the USGS in April and they helped fund the gauge through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30."
Kicklighter said the parks service could contribute a third of the gauge's operational cost.
When the geological survey was notified from the parks service about the funding cut, a notice published on their website read:
"After September 30, 2013, data collection at this gauge (Thurmond) will be discontinued due to funding reductions. Although historical data will remain accessible, no new data will be collected unless one or more new funding partners are found."
Doug Ackerman, a kayaker from Fayetteville, said he was checking the data from the Thurmond gauge when he discovered the notice.
"During paddling season, I check this particular gauge up to fives times a day," Ackerman said. "I was not happy when I read that. To suspend service at a gauge that is used by many people is foolish."
Ackerman emailed Shaun Wicklein, supervisory hydrologist for the geological survey, and inquired about the cost associated with keeping the Thurmond gauge operational.
Wicklein said the average annual operation and maintenance cost for a geological survey streamflow monitoring station, such as the one in Thurmond, is $15,000. He said the monitoring and calculation is a complex and labor-intensive activity.
In an interview with the Daily Mail, Wicklein said the $15,000 figure he quoted Ackerman includes satellite time, recalibration several times a year, as well as equipment upkeep and maintenance. A detailed list of each line item that figures in to the $15,000 cost was not provided.