Stream gauge

Stream gauge

A stream gauge, or stream gage, refers to a site along a stream where measurements of volumetric discharge (flow) are made.

Measurement of Discharge

Automated direct measurement of streamflow discharge is difficult at present. In place of the direct measurement of streamflow discharge, one or more surrogate measurements can be used to produce discharge values. In the majority of cases, a stage measurement is used as the surrogate. Low gradient (or shallow-sloped) streams are highly influenced by variable downstream channel conditions. For these streams, a second stream gauge would be installed, and the slope of the water surface would be calculated between the gauges. This value would be used along with the stage measurement to more accurately determine the streamflow discharge. Within the last ten years, the technological advance of velocity sensors has allowed the use of water velocity as a reliable surrogate for streamflow discharge. These sensors are permanently mounted in the stream and measure velocity at a particular location in the stream.

In those instances where only a stage measurement is used as the surrogate, a rating curve must be constructed. A rating curve is the functional relation between stage and discharge. It is determined by making repeated discrete measurements of streamflow discharge using a velocimeter and some means to measure the channel geometry to determine the cross-sectional area of the channel. The technicians and hydrologists responsible for determining the rating curve visit the site routinely, with special trips to measure the hydrologic extremes (floods and droughts), and make a discharge measurement by following an explicit set of instructions.

Once the rating curve is established, it can be used in conjunction with stage measurements to determine the volumetric streamflow discharge. This record then serves as an assessment of the volume of water that passes by the stream gauge and is useful for many tasks associated with hydrology.

In those instances where a velocity measurement is additionally used as a surrogate, an index velocity determination is conducted. This analysis uses a velocity sensor, often either magnetic or acoustic, to measure the velocity of the flow at a particular location in the stream cross section. Once again, discrete measurements of streamflow discharge are made by the technician or hydrologist at a variety of stages. For each discrete determination of streamflow discharge, the mean velocity of the cross section is determined by dividing streamflow discharge by the cross-sectional area. A rating curve, similar to that used for stage-discharge determinations, is constructed using the mean velocity and the index velocity from the permanently mounted meter. An additional rating curve is constructed that relates stage of the stream to cross-sectional area. Using these two ratings, the automatically collected stage produces an estimate of the cross-sectional area, and the automatically collected index velocity produces an estimate of the mean velocity of the cross section. The streamflow discharge is computed as the estimate of the cross section area and the estimate of the mean velocity of the streamflow.

Types of Stream Gauge

Many permanent stream gauges, are weirs, such as:
* V-notch,
* broad-crested,
* sharp-crested and
* combination weirs

Other types of permanent stream gauge include:
* Flumes
* Cableways
* Ultrasonic gauges
* Electromagnetic gauges

Temporary gauging of a stream can be done using equipment such as a current metre or a float.

National Stream Gauge Networks

United States

In the United States, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is the principal federal agency tasked with maintaining records of natural resources. Within the USGS, the Water Resources Discipline carries the responsibility for monitoring water resources.

To establish a stream gauge, USGS personnel first choose a site on a stream where the geometry is relatively stable and there is a suitable location to make discrete direct measurements of streamflow using specialized equipment. Many times this will be at a bridge or other stream crossing. Technicians then install equipment that measures the stage (the elevation of the water surface) or, more rarely, the velocity of the flow. Additional equipment is installed to record and transmit these readings (via a telemeter) to the Water Science Center office where the records are kept. The USGS has a Water Science Center office in every state within the USA.


In Zimbabwe, the national stream gauge network is the responsibility of the Zimbabwe National Water Authority. This is an extensive network covering all major rivers and catchments in the country. However, a review of existing gauges raised serious concerns about the reliability of the data of a minority of stations, due in part to ongoing funding problems [Nyabeze, W.R. 2005. Calibrating a distributed model to estimate runoff for ungauged catchments in Zimbabwe. "Physics and Chemistry of the Earth", 30, 625-633. [] ] .

ee also

*Hydrological modelling
*Hydrological transport model


* [ "Contoocook River Streamflow-Gaging Station", Water Resources of New Hampshire and Vermont]

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