Measuring Flow

Have you ever seen something that looks like this…



Or like this…











Or even like this…

These shed and boxes are  called stream gage stations. They are scattered through out the United States along river banks. Stream gages can even be silver boxes mounted to sides of bridges. The gages are part of the stream gaging network maintained by the United States Geological Survey (USGS). Yes, the USGS studies more than just rocks and volcanoes! One of the biggest responsibilities of the USGS is to study water!


Each one of these stations has equipment that can detect the height of the water and how much water is flowing in the river. 


The amount of water flowing in the river is measured in cubic feet per second* (cfs).  This type of information is especially important when designing the construction of dams and bridges, irrigation, and during stormy weather.

Next blog installment:  Check the amount of water flowing in your state at each stream gage station- right from your own computer!!! 

*What is a cubic foot?  Picture a box that is 1 foot high, 1 foot in length, and 1 foot in width to visualize a cubic foot.  Another way to visualize a cubic foot is to picture a basketball since a basketball is just about the size of a cubic foot.  So you can think of the stream gage as being able to tell you how many water “basketballs” flow past it every second.



How do we know about water flow in a river?

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The Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection and the United States Geological Survey got together to study water movement in the Blackstone River.  Watch this video to learn how the team of scientists and engineers collect data on water movement. It’s a more colorful story than you might think!  Special permission was granted to do this study so please do not attempt this on a stream or river near you.