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WATER RESOURCES INVESTIGATIONS
Mr. COHEN. In the program element Data Collection and Analysis, the proposed reduction is $2.7 million. Among other things, that will result in the reduction of something on the order of 80 to 90 continuous streamflow gaging stations. We will—
Mr. YATES. What do those streamflow gaging stations tell you?
Mr. COHEN. We operate about 10,000 of those gauging stations throughout the country. They provide a variety of information ranging from the bulk of the data for the National Weather Service for flood forecasting and flood warnings to operational uses by many other Federal agencies, such as the Corps of Army Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, and many State and local agencies. A great deal on the nature of runoff throughout the United States is determined, and it helps to document periods of drought and periods of floods.
Mr. YATES. Suppose you don't have the information. What will happen?
Mr. COHEN. Well, the stream gaging program has been declining slightly during the past five or six years. We have done reasonably well, I think, in protecting those stations which reflect the greatest needs of the country.
Mr. Yates. Well, if we don't have the information, what happens to the country?
Mr. COHEN. Well, there are other people who are concerned with a range of local or engineering issues who in fact feel very strongly that we ought to be collecting more information. In fact, we're collecting a great deal of information.
Mr. YATES. But Mr. Cohen, you still haven't answered my question.
My question is, if you don't collect that information, how are you hurt? Not that there are others who think that we ought to collect more information. How are you hurt if you don't have the information?
Mr. COHEN. In managing this network, we have a great deal of flexibility. In part that's provided by this Committee and in part by the agencies which provide us with reimbursable fundings.
As I said before, these proposed changes are on the margin, and we do have management controls by which we can minimize the disruption and the negative aspects of reductions of the magnitude that I've told to you.
Now, if for other purposes I wanted to create horror stories, I guess that I could. But it's
Mr. YATES. But that's what I'm trying to find out. Suppose the Committee in its wisdom or lack of wisdom were to eliminate your funding. What would be missing? What information would be missing? Who would be hurt by the lack of information?
STREAM GAGING PROGRAM Mr. COHEN. If the stream gaging program were to completely disappear, Mr. Chairman, the Nation would be in dire straits. Among other things, as I indicated before, it is the database which the National Weather Service uses to warn of floods. This is an element involving protection of lives and property.
My point is, within the size of the program that we have, we are able to maintain the integrity of that element of the program. It's the highest priority and most important element.
Dr. PECK. I might go on, Mr. Chairman.
It's also used in river compacts. For example, the flow of water to New York City or Philadelphia is run by a river master, and that's based on our stream gages.
It's also used for designing highway overpasses or dams. If there's no good streamflow information, then you have to overdesign, and build a little bigger dam or a little higher bridge. It's also used for analyzing water quality.
Mr. YATES. There was a time when you did not have this information.
Dr. PECK. We started gaging streams about 100 years ago, Mr. Chairman.
Mr. YATES. You did.
Dr. PECK. In part, it was tied into the need for water discharge information for considering irrigation of western lands. This was the opening up of the western lands.
Mr. COHEN. All of the major water related structures associated with the Nation's streams are designed on the basis of streamflow data, much of which we collect.
Most of the discharge permits for sewage treatment plants discharging into the Nation's streams depend upon knowing what the streamflow is. We collect most of that information.
Mr. Yates. All right, that's the first concrete statement you've made. I want to know what specifics.
All right, that's one. Are there others?
Mr. COHEN. Construction design, flood hazard protection, navigation, operation of major waterworks, irrigation, and many others. Those are some of the big ones that come to mind.
Mr. YATES. The reason for all this—I'm trying to get this into the record because if by some chance the Committee wants to provide you with funds to continue this work, we want to know why we're doing it. Why, we can point to this and say we need this money for this purpose.
You have just itemized a few of the purposes here.
Dr. PECK. I think also that, Mr. Chairman, the Water Resources Division has done a good job in sharing the financial load of running its network. Much of the program-over half of it—is covered under the cooperative program. Many gages are funded by many different organizations, including
Mr. YATES. Which is also being cut.
Mr. YATES. Well, that's the point, fellows. That's the point. You're being cut in your cooperatives and you're being cut in the others.
All right. How important is that work? That's the question I'm asking you. Should some of that money be restored? If it should be, why should it be restored? What's missing? Will the country be able to get along without the information? If it won't, tell me that. Tell the country that.
Dr. PECK. We think that's very important work. If the Committee in its wisdom
Mr. YATES. But why is it important?
Mr. YATES. Somebody looking at the hearings will say, well, my God, we can't get along without that, can we? So we have to have money to provide the work.
Dr. PECK. One of our most important programs is the cooperative program, which helps support the network but which also supports a number of interpretive studies addressing specific water problems of the local communities or the States on a 50-50 share basis.
More and more through the years, those interpretive studies have been addressed to-
Mr. Yates. How is this related to water quality?
Dr. PECK. More and more of those studies are related to water quality.
Mr. COHEN. A substantial part of the water quality work that we do relates to the quality of the Nation's rivers.
Mr. YATES. Okay.
Mr. COHEN. In most cases, one cannot assess the quality of the Nation's rivers, either the goodness, badness, or changes thereof, unless one knows the quantity of flow.
Mr. YATES. As to whether any impurities are going to be carried away?
Mr. COHEN. That's correct.
Mr. YATES. Whether there is pollution there which could be carried away, or where you have an oil spill as you did in Pennsylvania and Ohio that went down the rivers.
Mr. COHEN. That's correct.
So you have to have a knowledge of the force and the stream flow.
Mr. COHEN. That's correct.
OHIO RIVER POLLUTION Mr. YATES. So that when this oil pollution came down the rivers into Ohio, the people of Ohio wanted to know how long it would be before the oil would sweep by them and into the Mississippi river and down into the Gulf, right?
Mr. COHEN. That's correct.
Mr. COHEN. Most of the stream gaging in the United States is done by the Geological Survey. I would estimate that we operate something on the order of 80 percent of the continuous—
Mr. YATES. All right.
Mr. YATES. All right. As it went down the waters of the Ohio River, was it your agency that was keeping tabs on all this?
Mr. COHEN. We had done what we referred to as time-of-travel studies. We've done them throughout many parts of the country. These studies are on the shelf predicting the rate of movement of the mass of water and any substances dissolved or being carried along.
So yes, we have the information. Mr. YATES. So if a catastrophe or a calamity of a kind occurred with these oil barges—that can occur anywhere in the country, can it not?
Mr. COHEN. That's correct. Mr. Yates. Depending on where the oil barges are. It could happen in chemicals, it could happen with other sources of pollution. So there's some element of value to the information that you're gathering.
Mr. COHEN. That's right.
Mr. YATES. Could the people of Ohio have gotten along without this information? Nature would have taken care of it anyway.
Mr. COHEN. If I may, I would generalize the response to your question. This Nation cannot get along without a viable streamflow program.
Mr. YATES. Okay.
Many of the engineering and environmental regulatory aspects of our Nation's streams depend upon a continual knowledge and a good knowledge, of the Nation's streamflow.
Mr. YATES. Okay.
PROPOSED BUDGET REDUCTIONS
If that's true, are you being—is this program being cut too much by the budget that we have before us? Both in your program and in the cooperative program?
Mr. COHEN. These are sizable reductions.
Mr. YATES. I didn't use the word sizable, you are using the term sizable. We know they're sizable. Are they being cut too much?
Mr. COHEN. I need to put it in a context of the total reductions. The proposed reductions in the Federal State cooperative program and then in the Federal component are rather sizable in terms of their potential impacts on the stream gaging program.
But given the total proposed reductions in our water program, it does not represent an inordinate amount. Other things are being reduced, and we do have some flexibility with a network of this size. We are required to take reductions of this type, and we will have to take some in the stream gaging program.
Mr. YATES. All right, then.
FEDERAL GROUNDWATER LEGISLATION
Mr. REGULA. Mr. Chairman? Would you yield for a moment?
Have you been following the Congressional actions that are creating a Federal groundwater protection program which includes a large role for the USGS, and do you have any position on that?
Dr. PECK. This has to do with the variety of legislation in the Senate.
Our position has been in opposition to those bills, in that we feel that we have through our Organic Act, and succeeding legislation, sufficient authority to carry out our groundwater programs. In some cases the proposed legislation tends to muddy the waters, if you'll pardon the expression, between the Department of Agriculture, the EPA and the Geological Survey, about our authority.
Furthermore, some of the legislation mandates a system of grants to States and local agencies at a variety of ratios. We for example, are very enthusiastic, and at the top of my wish list is the Federal-State Cooperative Water Program.
Mr. REGULA. This is a clearinghouse program?
Dr. PECK. No, this is a cooperative program of stream gages and interpretive studies and a lot of information flow, too.
Some of the legislation does have a clearinghouse function. We have the beginnings of a clearinghouse function already, and I think it's proper that we have that responsibility. That could be augmented to be more effective in conveying information.
Finally, our stance is in opposition to that proposal.
Mr. REGULA. Well, the House passed H.R. 791, which includes provisions to establish a National groundwater information clearinghouse. This program would be essential to State and local governments, given the estimates of what the startup for this program would be. Are they budgeted?
Dr. PECK. Our present water information program is budgeted at $1 million for FY 1989, something like that.
So, elements of the water information clearinghouse function carried out by the Geological Survey are already budgeted.
I would like to add, Mr. Regula, that we are sympathetic to the concerns of Congress about groundwater quality and the motivation and concerns that have led to this legislation. My concern is about some of the details of that legislation.
Mr. REGULA. I assume that you already would have in place, information on groundwater, and that it would be a National policy to do a comprehensive review, Nationwide, of groundwater problems, that you would have a base to work from.