low-flow wading measurement on the Little Klickitat River
Low-flow wading measurement on the Little Klickitat River.

River and Stream Flow Monitoring

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Ecology's Statewide Flow Monitoring Network            

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What we do

The Stream Hydrology Technical Coordination Team (SH-TCT) of Ecology's Environmental Monitoring and Trends Section provides flow information in support of two Department of Ecology (Ecology) activities. SH-TCT provides timely and accurate instantaneous stream flow for various in-stream actions.  These instantaneous stream flows are an integral element in determining the available in-stream resources (for fish) and the available out of stream resources (for people). The driving forces behind the increasing need for accurate and timely stream flow data are The Endangered Species Act (ESA), salmon recovery efforts, and an increased focus on water resource management.

SH-TCT also provides flow information to support water quality monitoring efforts within Ecology. Instantaneous flow measurements (discharge) are an important element of both the River and Stream Water Quality Section and the Watershed Assessment Section Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) studies. Discharge measurements are used within both of these programs to address two issues. The first issue is the variability intruded into water quality parameters that are directly influenced by seasonal and annual flow patterns. The removal of this variability (flow adjusting or normalizing the parameter with respect to flow) often enhances our ability to detect long term changes in water quality (trends). The second issue is the parameter specific relative contribution (load) or flux from a stream with respect to its receiving water. In both cases it is paramount that the discharge measurement be as accurate as possible.

Within SH-TCT, we do not measure river/stream discharge each time water quality information is collected. Instead we rely on two methods to estimate stream flow at the time of sampling. The first is to gather this information from stream gages operated by other governmental agencies, primarily the USGS, the Corps of Engineers, and the Bureau of Reclamation.  The second method is to create our own rating curves that relate river stage to discharge following a formal set of procedures that are included in the Quality Assurance Monitoring Plan. Where this method is used, the river stage is measured and recorded when the water quality sample is collected. In addition, at least 6 to 8 times a year, we measure stream flow and record the corresponding stage. These measurements are made at various stage heights encompassing the recorded stage during the water quality sampling. The instantaneous flow measurements are then plotted against stage height to develop a rating curve for each measurement site. Ideally, this rating curve covers the full range of the stage heights recorded during the sampling.

SH-TCT makes discharge measurements using two primary methods. Low flows are measured by in-stream wading measurements and high flows (non-wadable) are measured from a bridge with standard bridge equipment or an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP). The ADCP can be deployed using our tow-raft or for larger applications from our jet sled.

Flow measurements  and continuous stage records are archived in a stream flow database at the Department of Ecology Headquarters in Olympia, Washington.

Station types

The operation of Ecology stream flow stations falls into three types: Telemetry, Stand Alone, and Manual Stage Height.  The specific type determines the availability of data for each stream flow station.

Telemetry

A telemetry station logs stage height every fifteen minutes and transmits this data in three hour blocks to the Department of Ecology Headquarters in Olympia, Washington via a satellite transmitter or a standard dial-up modem. This data is automatically imported into the stream flow database and published to Ecology's web site. 

Stand alone

A stand-alone station logs data every fifteen minutes and is downloaded periodically (once a month). Data is imported into the stream flow database manually and automatically published to the Ecology web site. Stand-alone stations are typically operated for up to or less than one Water Year (October 1 - September 30).  Stream flow data from both active and historic stand-alone stations are included on the Ecology website.

Manual stage height

A manual-stage-height station does not produce a continuous record but is typically only a single point in time measurement. Stage height is directly read from either a standard staff gage, wire weight gage (WWG) or measured from a reference point (RP). A RP is a point located somewhere over the wetted width of the station cross-section from which a measurement can be made to the water surface.  Manual-stage-height measurements are converted to instantaneous stream flow using a rating table or flow curve. Rating tables or flow curves for each of these stations are built based on the relationship between a series of periodic stage height measurements and their corresponding in-stream flow measurements.

Temperature Data

Temperature data collected by SH-TCT is measured using two types of probes. The first is an internal thermistor within the submersible SDI-12 pressure transducer.  The SDI-12 probe uses water temperature to correct for the change in pressure response due to temperature and adjusts the final pressure accordingly.  The nominal accuracy of this built in thermistor is + 1 Degree C.  However, our side by side comparisons with tidbit temperature probes have found the internal thermistors to be within + 0.2 degrees C.

Stations where a self-contained bubbler is used to measure stage height have a separate thermistor probe for measuring water temperature.  The nominal accuracy of these probes is + 0.2 degrees C.

Both probe types are deployed within a 2" galvanized slant pipe that extends from the gauge house into the stream channel.

Access to Data

Current Water Year data provided by the Washington State Department of Ecology – including stream discharge and water level values are automatically generated by remote equipment and have not been reviewed or edited for accuracy. Inaccuracies in the data may be present due to instrument malfunctions or physical changes to the discharge measurement sites. End of water year review may result in significant revisions to the data.

Please exercise caution and carefully consider the provisional nature of the information provided.

Conditions that may affect flow monitoring data

Ice
During extreme cold weather, river stage may be affected by ice. As a result of the changing channel characteristics, incorrect discharge data will be computed from the stage data. Please review associated water and air temperature data where available.

Aquatic Plants
During periods of warm weather, river stage may be affected by the rapid growth of aquatic plants. As a result of the changing channel characteristics, incorrect discharge data will be computed from the stage data.

Ecology's Statewide Flow Monitoring Network  

Requesting additional flow information

A designated contact for additional information is provided on each station page. Stream Hydrology Unit contacts are listed as follows.

Contacts

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