Marietta committee discusses flood gauges

MARIETTA – Annual operation and maintenance costs for two high-tech early warning flood gauges on the Ohio and Muskingum rivers could cost the city of Marietta $3,200, according to a presentation during Wednesday’s meeting of city council’s planning, zoning, annexation and housing committee.

“One of the gauges has been put in the Ohio River near Sardis and not only measures the water level, but also the flow and velocity of the river; it’s the first of its kind ever installed on the Ohio,” said city engineer Joe Tucker.

He said the other gauge, installed near Beverly, will provide similar information on the Muskingum River.

“We’ve been working on this system with the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service Ohio River Forecast Center in order to get more accurate flood predictions from the rivers,” Tucker said. “A final proposal for the development of a flood warning system in Marietta totaled $540,000, but Marietta is paying zero to get that system in place.”

He said that cost is being covered by the USGS and Muskingum Watershed Conservancy District.

“Our cost will be as lead agency for annual maintenance and operation of the gauges,” Tucker said. “That requires a total $39,000 annually for both gauges – $14,000 for the Muskingum River gauge and $25,000 for the Ohio River gauge.”

Most of the operation and maintenance cost – $27,000 – will be borne by contributions from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Huntington District, USACE Great Lakes and Ohio River Division, USGS in West Virginia, and the USGS in Ohio.

As lead agency for the project, Marietta would be responsible for the remaining $12,000, Tucker said, but added he has contacted local funding partners that would bring the city’s total annual contribution down to $3,200.

Two of those partners, Washington County and Morgan County, would pay $2,000 and $800, respectively, for the costs.

Tucker said he has contacted Boston-based Free Flow Power Inc., which is planning to install seven small hydroelectric systems on dams along the Muskingum River, and American Municipal Power that is constructing a hydroelectric facility at the Willow Island dam on the Ohio River.

Under the partnership proposal Free Flow would provide $4,000 for the annual O&M costs, and AMP would pay $3,000.

Tucker said a memorandum of understanding would have to be developed and signed by all partners to provide the annual funding over the next 10 years.

He said the flood warning system should be completed and operational by the end of 2014, noting that anyone will be able to access immediate real-time data on river conditions via computers or other devices.

“This will also include an automatic call-down system that will alert citizens within seconds about impending flooding conditions,” Tucker said. Anyone will be able to register cell phones or land lines to receive the emergency calls.

Councilman Harley Noland, D-at large, said the system would be well worth the cost, even if the city had to pay the entire $12,000 for annual operation and maintenance of the river gauges.

“I lost thousands more than that in property during the 2004 flood,” he said. “If there had been enough warning I could have moved those things out of the way. I think the citizens of Marietta would be more than willing for us to do this.”