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February 7, 2011

Fed. budget woes threaten Susq. River forecasts

The agency that manages the water resources in the Susquehanna River is warning that federal budget cuts threaten funding for the Susquehanna Flood Forecast and Warning System.

Officials at the Susquehanna River Basin Commission say loss of system funding would cut off data used to forecast flooding along the river, and to manage the withdrawal of water by regulated water users. Those users include Marcellus shale gas development projects and, in times of drought, the Susquehanna floodBaltimore water system, which serves the city and surrounding suburbs.

"In a time of tight budgets and with the country determined to get its fiscal house in order, everyone understands the need to curb spending," said the commission's executive director, Paul Swartz. "But eliminating funding for this proven system risks loss of life and property, and leaves Susquehanna basin residents, communities and businesses vulnerable. Is that a prudent financial decision?"

The $2.4 million needed to keep the system of stream and river gauges operating has been provided until now by "congressionally directed funding," or "earmarks." But the Senate has passed a two-year moratorium on the practice. 

Sen. Barbara Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, has been a key supporter of the funding on the Appropriations Committee, said she was "disappointed" in the situation. But she added, "it is unlikely that congressionally designated projects will be funded in the near future."

In a release, Swartz said the forecast and warning system "provides the National Weather Conowingo DamService the critically important data necessary to issue flood warnings. The system is extremely cost-effective, providing a 20-to-1 benefit-cost ratio."

Funding for the system this year is coming through the "continuing resolutions" that Congress has passed in lieu of a FY 2011 budget. The current resolution expires on Mar. 4. Without a new earmark for the system, it would not be funded in FY 2012, either.

River basin commission officials said they intend to work to secure some sort of "bridge" funding to keep the system working through September 2012. They also hope to have the funding included in the President's budget for FY-2013. "That is exactly where funding for the system belongs ... Congress has carried the burden of funding the system for too long," Swartz said.

"It is not a question of whether flooding will again occur in the Susquehanna River Basin, but rather when it will occur, and how severe it will be," he said. "I pray it will not take the devastation of another flood event for us to once again learn the wisdom of the adage that 'an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.'"

The warning system was established 25 years ago to protect the 1,100-or-so flood-prone communities in the basin, which stretches 444 miles from upstate New York, through Central Pennsylvania to Maryland.  Here's more on how the river forecast system works.

(SUN PHOTOS: Port Deposit (top) and Conowingo Dam, 2004; Karl Merton Ferron)

Posted by Frank Roylance at 4:13 PM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Flooding


false economy obviously, they will spend billions on the cleanup. But I'm guessing the basin commission could find 1M in savings and reduce the cost, too. Other than measuring water flow (I thought the Geo Survey did that?) what does the Commission itself do (and its Board members, support staff, etc.)

FR: The USGS operates the system, the NWS uses the data for forecasting. The river commission is merely lobbying for the funding. Its role is to manage the water resources in the Susquehanna, allocating withdrawals for for mining, municipal water systems, power generation etc.

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About Frank Roylance
This site is the Maryland Weather archive. The current Maryland Weather blog can be found here.
Frank Roylance is a reporter for The Baltimore Sun. He came to Baltimore from New Bedford, Mass. in 1980 to join the old Evening Sun. He moved to the morning Sun when the papers merged in 1992, and has spent most of his time since covering science, including astronomy and the weather. One of The Baltimore Sun's first online Web logs, the Weather Blog debuted in October 2004. In June 2006 Frank also began writing comments on local weather and stargazing for The Baltimore Sun's print Weather Page. Frank also answers readers’ weather queries for the newspaper and the blog. Frank Roylance retired in October 2011. Maryland Weather is now being updated by members of The Baltimore Sun staff

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