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Potomac River water gauge is reinstated

By Staff | Nov 4, 2016

The United States Geological Survey has reinstated the Potomac River gauge in Shepherdstown on Sept. 20 of this year. The gauge is located on the hill up from the boat ramp at the Potomac River access, and transmits data by satellite which goes right to the office of Jason Elliot, Senior Service Hydrologist, National Weather Service.

“Why was it a big deal to get this gauge back?” Elliot asked the attendees at quarterly meeting of the Jefferson County Homeland Security and Emergency Management on Friday. “The model river basin at Point of Rocks was a 1500 square mile river basin with only data from one gauge for the whole thing. That’s not optimal, but with Shepherdstown coming back in, that’s going to cut that area by two-thirds. There will still be some gaps with the smaller tributaries that don’t have gauges yet, but that’s an issue that we’re going to try to work on. Without the data, we couldn’t predict flooding as well.”

“Flood history in this county is among the longest in our entire region,” said Elliot. “It goes back to 1748. The largest flood on the Potomac was in 1936. River readings have not had that long of a history. They’ve been taken during high water events beginning mostly in the late 19th century. Once technology got a little bit better, we got continuous river readings in 1928 in both Millville and Shepherdstown. In Millville, those readings have been taken every single day, every single hour now. In Shepherdstown though, those readings stopped in 1993. They resumed briefly in 2000, stopped again in 2004, and we haven’t had any since.”

The USGS had funding assistance from the Interstate Commission on the Potomac River Basin, and the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Those two agencies put in a share of the money to help the USGS reinstate this gauge. Over the next several years, the USGS will take all of the funding requirement away.

“There’s not a danger that I’m aware of, of the gauge going away again,” said Elliot.

In addition to getting the Shepherdstown gauge back, Elliot said the Weather Service is trying to get the Williamsport, Maryland gauge to give more readings other than once a day. This will help the Shepherdstown area to have more advanced warning of a potential flood situation.

The forecast and warning services from the gauge will resume in Shepherdstown on Nov. 23 of this year.

To check the river water levels, visit water.weather.gov and click on West Virginia to see data.