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Money needed to run Potomac River gauges

June 09, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

There is no money to pay for three Potomac River gauges that officials use to measure water levels near Washington County, and local officials say they would be less prepared for flooding if money isn't found soon.

The gauges in Paw Paw, W.Va., Hancock, and a Potomac River tributary in Cumberland, Md., are funded through the Army Corps of Engineers' budget but managed by the U.S. Geological Survey, said Jim Gerhart, the local district chief for the Geological Survey.

The federal budget set to go into effect Oct. 1 does not include the $37,000 to run the automated gauges, officials said.

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Gerhart said loss of the gauges could affect flood forecasting.

"The Potomac's a big river and people notice when it floods," Gerhart said. "There can be lots of damage, and I think it's important to stay on top of that and predict what's going to happen."

Hagerstown Mayor William M. Breichner said the gauges are "central to our operation that we depend on and a lot of people depend on."

He said knowing water levels gives local governments time to react, either to change the low at water and sewer plants or to give people time to move out of the way of rising water.

Breichner said he had contacted U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and state Del. LeRoy E. Myers, R-Allegany/Washington, about the situation.

Bartlett said he will meet next week with officials from the Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to see if any of the agencies have money in their budgets that could go toward keeping the instruments running.

Bartlett said if no money is available, it might be necessary to seek legislation to find the money because "a small expenditure here may avoid very large expenditures in the future."

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