Budget Cuts Could Put Oklahoma Flood Warning System At Risk

Thursday, September 16th 2010, 6:05 pm
By: News On 6

By Chris Wright, The News On 6

TULSA, OKLAHOMA -- Weather experts say upcoming budget cuts could put Oklahomans in danger during severe weather.

A lack of funding could shut down a number of the state's river gauges. The gauges measure how high the water is, how fast it's flowing, and are used to generate flood warnings.

They're constantly transmitting information about rivers to the National Weather Service.

Nicole McGaveok monitors levels at river gauges placed all over Green Country. She says the information comes in handy for forecasting, and is crucial during severe weather.

"We want to try and protect lives and property and give people a heads up as soon as possible when we think there could be flooding occurring," McGaveock said.

There could be 20 fewer gauges by the end of the month. The feds cover roughly half the costs and the Oklahoma Water Resources Board has been covering the rest. But the state's ongoing budget woes means the board can no longer afford to keep them all up and running.

There are 80 gages spread throughout the state. The ones in more populated areas, like in Tulsa, will remain open. But the National Weather Service says all of the gauges play a crucial role in keeping people safe.

Experts say that was on display when a record flood decimated parts of Coffeyville, Kansas in 2007. They say the gauge there, which is scheduled to be shut down, provided crucial information.

Jim Wellman of the U.S. Geological Survey was at that flood, as well as many others in recent years.  He says these budget cuts could have serious consequences.

"It really comes down to priority and we feel that the flood warning gauges are a top priority to protect people's property and lives," Wellman said.

The U.S. Geological Survey hopes that another agency, be it state, federal or private, will decide to contribute the funds necessary to keep the gauges up and running.