A qualitative comparison was made of the streamgaging programs of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and three non-Federal agencies in terms of approximate costs and streamflow-information products produced. The three non-Federal agencies provided the USGS with detailed information on their streamgaging program and related costs, and the USGS explored, through publicly available Web sites and one-on-one discussions, the comparability of the streamflow information produced.
The type and purpose of streamgages operated, the quality of streamflow record produced, and cost-accounting methods have a great effect on streamgaging costs. There are many uses of streamflow information, and the information requirements for streamgaging programs differ greatly across this range of purposes. A premise of the USGS streamgaging program is that the network must produce consistent data of sufficient quality to support the broadest range of possible uses. Other networks may have a narrower range of purposes; as a consequence, the method of operation, data-quality objectives, and information delivery may be different from those for a multipurpose network. As a result, direct comparison of the overall cost (or of the cost per streamgage) among these programs is not possible. The analysis is, nonetheless, very instructive and provides USGS program managers, agency leadership, and other agency streamgaging program managers useful insight to influence future decisions. Even though the comparison of streamgaging costs and streamflow information products was qualitative, this analysis does offer useful insights on longstanding questions of USGS streamgaging costs.