The Past, Present and Future of USGS Streamgages | U.S. Geological SurveyThe First USGS Streamgage In the late 1800s, John Wesley Powell, second...The Past, Present and Future of USGS Streamgages | U.S. Geological Survey
The First USGS Streamgage
In the late 1800s, John Wesley Powell, second Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, had a vision for the Western United States. After exploring the West, Powell recognized that the availability of water was key to the settlement of the region.
Powell proposed to inventory all streams in the West to evaluate the potential for irrigation in the region. The essential first step in this process was to gage the flow of those streams.
A hydrographer in a wooden cable car lowers a current meter into the stream below.
Sources/Usage: Public Domain.
A hydrographer taking a cableway streamflow measurement at the first USGS streamgage in Embudo, New Mexico.
A few cities in the Eastern United States had already begun using streamgages, as early as the 1870s, to collect data needed for the design of their water supply systems. Their methods generally involved constructing channels and dams to enable accurate gaging; however, these methods were not feasible in the West.
In January 1889, the first USGS streamgage was established along the Rio Grande near Embudo, New Mexico. The Rio Grande at Embudo streamgage was developed to handle the unique challenges of the Rio Grande: shallow, fast-moving water and soft, mobile channel beds.
The equipment and techniques developed at the Embudo site became the foundation of USGS streamgaging methods.