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National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP)

USGS Streamgage Network Funding

The following pie chart shows the funding sources for the USGS streamgaging network in Fiscal Year 2007. The relative proportion of funding from the different sources has remained fairly consistent over many years. The total funding for the USGS streamgaging network in 2007 was $134.9M. Through the USGS Cooperative Water Program, over 800 state and local agencies contributed about $66M, or about 49 percent of the total funding. Other Federal Agencies (OFAs) contributed the second largest amount at about $28M (about 21 percent), with the bulk of these funds from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The USGS Cooperative Water Program (CWP) contributed about $24M (about 18 percent) of the funding in 2007 and the USGS NSIP program was able to provide about $17M, or about 13 percent. It should be noted that the CWP funds are allowed to be matched up to a one to one basis with state and local agencies (the CWP can not match other Federal agency funds) - in 2007 the state and local agencies were required to provide over $2.70 for every $1 from the CWP because of more demand than Federal funds were available to match. The following section provides a discussion of how a fully funded NSIP could alleviate this problem.

Pie Chart for 2007

USGS Streamgaging Funding Under a Fully Funded National Streamflow Information Program

Of major concern to those involved with the streamgaging program of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) are the rising costs of the program and the shifting of the funding burden in recent years from a nearly equal amount from the USGS and the over 800 funding partners nationwide to a more unequal shared costs by the State and local agencies (72 percent partners to 28 percent USGS in 2006). This has been caused mostly by level funding of USGS programs providing funding for streamgaging activities and increases due to inflation while at the same time there have been increasing demands for the information. Over the last decade, the USGS has made tremendous strides in holding down costs of the streamgaging program while adding enhancements to the program that now provides more accurate, reliable, and timely streamflow information to many more users of the information. Recent committees within the USGS that have evaluated this issue have determined that no major cost savings can be obtained without affecting the quality of the information provided. This then leaves a need to help equalize the funding burden.

Graph of 2006 USGS Streamgaging Funding
USGS streamgage network funding sources, 2006.
OFA = Other Federal Agencies;
CWP-State/Local = Cooperative Water Program-State and Local agencies;
CWP-USGS = Cooperative Water Program-USGS;
NSIP = Naitonal Streamflow Information Program.

To better understand the funding sources of the streamgaging activities of the USGS, figure 1 shows the major funding categories for the program in 2006. The total program nationwide in 2006 was about $127M. Of that, $27M (21%) was contributed by other Federal agencies, $14M (11%) was provided by the USGS National Streamflow Information Program (NSIP), $24M (19%) was contributed from the USGS Cooperative Water Program (CWP), and $62M (40%) was contributed by State and local agencies. The USGS CWP can not match the funds from the other Federal agencies, but can match the funds from most State and local agencies up to a 1 for 1 match. In other words, if CWP matching funds had been available in 2006, the USGS could have provided the same amount of funds as the State and local agencies ($62M), matching their funds 1 for 1. Conversely, if the State and local agencies had only matched the USGS at a 1 for 1, or 50/50 match, they would have contributed to the USGS streamgaging program only $24M, the same amount the USGS CWP was able to contribute in 2006. Had the amount contributed by the State and local agencies been at the 50/50 rate in 2006 equal to the USGS contribution, this would have translated nationwide into roughly 2,600 fewer active streamgages providing the real-time streamflow information required for so many critical uses. Fortunately for us as a society, the State and local agencies have been able to find the funds above the 50/50 match level for quite a few years now to carry the extra burden that the Federal government has not.

One way to greatly relieve the additional funding pressures on the other Federal, State, and local agencies is for the National Streamflow Information Program to be fully funded. Currently (2008) NSIP funding is less than 20 percent of planned full funding. The NSIP is a relatively new program (2001) with a mission to provide streamflow information needed for local, State, regional, and national uses. One of the goals of the NSIP is to provide a stable, Federally funded baseline streamgage network. Figure 2 shows how the funding burden for the streamgage network shifts dramatically from the present (Figure 1) to a fully funded NSIP. The assumptions that were part of the analysis to create the results in Figure 2 were: the USGS Cooperative Water Program would remain at $24M; the goal was to move towards a 50/50 match with State and local agencies; and there would be a 40 percent reduction in costs to the CWP partners because of the NSIP completely covering the fixed costs of the network. The most dramatic results in comparing Figure 1 to Figure 2 are the relative contributions from the NSIP and the State and local agencies. The NSIP contribution went from $14M (11%) to $88M (57%) and the State and local contribution went from $62M (49%) to $26M (17%). The other Federal agencies also would see a decline in their contribution to the network from $27M to $16M. The total number of streamgages in operation would increase by about 1,830 to 9,330 nationwide as the NSIP would reactivate previously discontinued streamgages and add some new streamgages. Although the goal of returning to a 50/50 match could not be solely achieved by a fully funded NSIP, this was able to change it from a 72/28 contribution ratio to 52/48 contribution ratio for the CWP. However in total funding, with the NSIP fully funded and the CWP at $24M, the USGS would be contributing 73 percent of the total network costs, up from just 35 percent in 2006.

Graph of USGS Streamgaging Funding, Full NSIP Implementation
USGS streamgaging network funding sources with full NSIP implementation (using 2006 dollars).
OFA = Other Federal Agencies;
CWP-State/Local = Cooperative Water Program-State and Local agencies;
CWP-USGS = Cooperative Water Program-USGS;
NSIP = Naitonal Streamflow Information Program.

NSIP at full funding would go a long way to helping relieve the pressure the streamgage network funding partners have felt for many years due to the mostly level funding from the Federal partners, including the USGS. There have been some concerns that some of the partner funding would go elsewhere in the future given a major change as would be expected under full NSIP implementation. Without a doubt, it would free up funds for these agencies that would have other uses for them. However, few if any of these agencies currently have all of their streamflow information needs totally being met and it is anticipated that much of the funding that would become available to them would be reinvested in new hydrologic data acquisition and analyses. The full funding of the NSIP would only serve to strengthen the hydrologic information, knowledge, and understanding required for the safety, well being, and economic strength of America.

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