New gauge will monitor Yough at West Newton
About this time every year, residents along the Youghiogheny River wait to see if the winter's snow will melt fast enough to combine with rain showers and cause the waterway to overflow its banks.
Emergency management officials in West Newton are hoping to take more of the guesswork out of predicting when that will happen with the addition of a river gauge under the West Newton Bridge.
Paul Williams, West Newton Emergency Management Agency director, said the gauge will act as the successor to a 40-year-old staff gauge near the TLC Adult Care Center on Rio Vista Drive.
“Before it actually falls over, we thought we should look in to getting something more sophisticated,” he said. “It's going to be a lot more accurate and a lot more dependable.”
A presentation with information about the new technology is open to the public and will be given during West Newton Borough council's work session meeting 6 p.m. Monday with representatives from the U.S. Geological Survey and Westmoreland County Department of Public Safety.
“Flooding is probably one of the biggest natural hazards that occur frequently in Westmoreland County,” said Dan Stevens, public information officer for the county department.
A similar gauge has been in place for years in Sutersville through the U.S. Geological Survey and National Weather Service with water depth and predicted levels updated hourly online, which can be viewed on the National Weather Service website by searching for “Youghiogheny river gauge at Sutersville.”
Clinton Hittle, a supervisory hydrologist at the Pittsburgh field office of USGS, said the gauge works by calculating the change in water pressure to measure the water level.
“Having a gauge in town will assist with possible evacuation,” he said. “It also gives you more redundancy if a gauge goes down during an event.”
Part of the gauge will be attached to a bridge abutment to feed information to a small box placed along one of the banks.
Hittle said neither are particularly noticeable and will not affect boat travel or river usage.
The gauge will be calibrated so it is in sync with the measurements given by the staff gauge, Williams said.
West Newton Emergency Management officials began meeting with USGS in December 2011 to discuss the addition of the gauge, which is in need of funding before it will be installed.
The latest cost estimate for the project, which will be released Monday, includes installation, maintenance and monitoring for five years, Williams said.
Grant money from state and federal emergency management funds may help cover some costs, he said.
Emergency workers won't physically have to check this gauge, since the readings are online, which will ease the burden on the EMA in an emergency, Williams said.
Residents, boaters and anglers are already able to get text or email alerts when the water reaches a chosen level at Sutersville by signing up at water.usgs.gov/wateralert.
The same would be available at the West Newton gauge, Hittle said.
Williams said he is glad the information will benefit the public and work to start developing a record so that the river depth in the borough can be studied over time.
In Sutersville, pH levels, dissolved oxygen and other measurements like salt and ion levels are measured along with the water depth, he said. West Newton's gauge for now will only measure water level, but could later incorporate flow speed.
Other nearby gauges along the Youghiogheny River include Connellsville, Ohiopyle and the Charleroi Lock and Dam.
Stevens said all preventative measures are helpful, especially when trying to predict something as difficult to control as water.
“You can't control it; you can try, but water's going to find the shortest, least resistant path,” he said.
Stacey Federoff is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at email@example.com or 724-836-6660.