To help meet the goal of providing earth-science information to the Nation, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) operates and maintains the largest streamgage network in the world, with over 7,600 active streamgages in 2010. This network is operated in cooperation with over 850 Federal, tribal, State, and local funding partners. The streamflow information provided by the USGS is used for the protection of life and property; for the assessment, allocation, and management of water resources; for the design of roads, bridges, dams, and water works; for the delineation of flood plains; for the assessment and evaluation of habitat; for understanding the effects of land-use, water-use, and climate changes; for evaluation of water quality; and for recreational safety and enjoyment.
USGS streamgages are managed and operated to rigorous national standards, allowing analyses of data from streamgages in different areas and spanning long time periods, some with more than 100 years of data. About 90 percent of USGS streamgages provide streamflow information real-time on the web. Physical measurements of streamflow are made at streamgages multiple times a year, depending on flow conditions, to ensure the highest level of accuracy possible. In addition, multiple reviews and quality assurance checks are performed before the data is finalized.
In 2006, the USGS reviewed all activities, operations, equipment, support, and costs associated with operating and maintaining a streamgage program (Norris and others, 2008). A summary of the percentages of costs associated with activities required to operate a streamgage on an annual basis are presented in figure 1. This information represents what it costs to fund a 'typical' USGS streamgage and how those funds are utilized. It should be noted that some USGS streamgages have higher percentages for some categories than do others depending on location and conditions. Forty-one percent of the funding for the typical USGS streamgage is for labor costs of the USGS staff responsible for the measurement of the streamflow in the field and the time in the office to quality assure and finalize the data. It is reasonable that funding for the entire national streamgage network would closely follow the percentages shown in figure 1 as to how the funds are invested in the network. However, actual costs are specific to a particular streamgage and can vary substantially depending on location and operational issues.