A crucial flood monitoring system used for 46 years on the Connecticut River in Middletown was shut down Friday because of a lack of federal funding, according to a meteorologist from the National Weather Service.
The U.S. Geological Survey confirmed it had removed its water level gage at the old gatehouse off River Road, which monitors flooding and collects other river data.
As a result, flood warnings at Middletown will no longer be forecast by the NWS in Taunton, Mass. Hartford’s data will be extrapolated for Middletown for the next one to three months.
“The annual cost of the gaging station on the Connecticut River at Middletown is $9,300,” said Virginia de Lima, director of the USGS Connecticut Water Science Center in East Hartford.
“We used to provide the Northeast River Forecast Center with the river level for the Connecticut based on that gauge,” said NWS meteorologist Alan Dunham, the observational project leader who is also with the senior service hydrologist. “Without live data, we cannot do that any more. We’ll have to come up with a comparison,” from the Hartford river gage, which will be ready to serve Middletown in a couple of days.
“The long-term solution is the Middle Haddam gage,” Dunham said, less than two miles downstream. “We’ll create that to be the forecast point. It’ll take a year to 18 months, but we’re already starting work on it.”
Eight feet is the river flood stage at Harbor Park in Middletown and one place affected annually is the Mattabesett Canoe Club, whose owners know if the river forecast is 10.5 feet, there will be minor flooding — and start moving furniture and other objects onto the second-floor back deck of the restaurant.
“The Connecticut River is a fairly frequent flooder,” Dunham said. In Middletown on the downstream side, the river goes into a deep gorge. In Middle Haddam, the banks open up again.
Storm Team 8 Meteorologist Gil Simmons said the loss of such local data will be significant to folks who routinely check the Connecticut River water levels.
“This gauge is critical to monitoring and forecasting flood conditions along the Connecticut River. As you know, we are approaching a critical time of year for spring flooding along the Connecticut River. Gage levels in the Middletown-Portland area are critical to understanding the significance of flooding in the area.
“I hope the spring flood season will not be a large-scale event. Not having this data can sacrifice important information for not only boaters, but business owners and homeowners in the flood plain as well,” Simmons said.
Middletown is not alone in its loss of river gage funding. In fact, 300 real-time observations used to support river forecasts are at risk across the country. Other observation areas at risk include Essex and Old Saybrook.