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Current and historical streamflow information is essential for assessing and managing the water resources of Tennessee. The characterization of water-quality conditions for environmental policy, prediction of floods and droughts, and the detection of long-term changes in the environment all require long-term records of flow. Real-time discharge and stage information are used by recreationists to plan outings and by local, State, and Federal officials for the management of day-to-day operations. Long-term records of discharge are used by environmental regulators to calibrate and verify watershed and ground-water models.
From 1970 through 1998, continuous-record streamgaging in Tennessee by the U.S. Geological Survey underwent a significant reduction. In 1970, 115 continuous-record streamgages were in operation on Tennessee rivers and streams. By 1998, that number had been reduced to 61. During this period, the number of gages with intermediate-term (10 to 29 years) and long-term (30 or more years) periods of record were reduced from 88 to 38 (57 percent). Of these 50 discontinued intermediate- and long-term gages, most were located on free-flowing rivers and streams. This loss of continuous-record streamgages in Tennessee has reduced the ability of local, State, and Federal agencies to manage the State's water resources.
Throughout the nation, long-term continuous-record streamgages are being discontinued as a result of ongoing changes in funding priorities. Since 1971, the U.S. Geological Survey streamgaging network on small rivers and streams across the country has decreased 22 percent. This reduction in the number of long-term stations on small, free- flowing rivers and streams threatens our ability to monitor change in our nation's water resources. Some of the reasons for this decline in the number of streamgages are: (1) reduced levels of federal funding resulting in the loss of hydrologic benchmark stations, (2) changing priorities within agencies responsible for hydrologic monitoring, and (3) perceptions that streamgages are expensive.
A recent external review of the U.S. Geological Survey water programs by a task force of the Advisory Committee on Water Information identified the loss of long-term streamgages as a national problem. A national streamgaging network is critical if long-term records are to be maintained. The U.S. Geological Survey is proposing a National Streamflow Information Program that seeks to stabilize funding for streamgages and promote the development of better, more efficient ways to collect, store, and distribute streamflow information. The National Streamflow Information Program would ensure that a baseline network of long-term streamgages is available for the immediate and future needs of researchers, planners, and managers of State and national water resources.
U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey
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