Editorial Feature

Environmental Sensors: Stream Gauging Station

Current Applications
Future Developments


Stream gauging station also known as stream gauge or stream gage is a place used for monitoring and investigating terrestrial water bodies by environmental scientists or hydrologists.

It can provide data on volumetric discharge of water and hydrometric measurements of water surface elevation. Certain gauging stations may be highly automated and include telemetry system that transmits data to a central data logging facility.

Apart from permanent water control structures such as flumes, v-notch and combination weirs that are used for improving the reliability of the water level measurement, there are several other equipments commonly employed in permanent water control structures. Some of them include the following:

  • Water pressure measuring device for measuring waster level based on pressure
  • Stilling well for providing a calm water level for measurement
  • Cableways in which current meter and hydrographer are suspended for high flow measurement
  • Stage encoder for providing an electronic reading of the water level
  • Electromagnetic gauges
  • Simple ultrasonic devices for measuring water level in a stilling well.


Characterization of natural stream flow regime in most of the streams that have been altered by humans can be carried out by estimating the characteristics of stream flow based on nearby stream gages that are minimally disturbed by humans. In an attempt to characterize stream-flow effects, Falcone JA et al (2010) from U.S. Geological Survey, Reston, Virginia compiled data for U.S. Geological Survey and its upstream watersheds in 2010.

The team also evaluated a number of watershed and site characteristics such as anthropogenic influences and environmental features. In addition, they examined watersheds for their reference quality to characterize stream flows under conditions of minimal human interference. Around 1512 locations were identified as reference-quality stream gages from a set of 6785 sites.

The measures for mitigating flood losses usually require an effective measure of flood scale in terms of height and flooded area of each of the typhoon-induced flood events.

These measures can be estimated using sophisticated hydraulic modeling tools or a flood mark recording device.

In 2012, Cheng AN et al (2012) from the National Ilan University, Taiwan modified an old-fashioned stream gauge to a double-tube flood mark (DTFM) stream gauge for installation in the low-lying plains that experience floods and for recording flood scale.

They also used other kinds of a gauge-like pressure transducer that measures the depth of water based on the pressure of the water column. The investigation revealed a satisfactory result. Hence it was inferred that installation of DTFM steam gauge is fast and easy. In the mean time, the DTFM steam gauge provides highly accurate flood measurements for calibrating sophisticated hydraulic modeling.

Current Applications

The following are the current applications of stream gauging station:

  • Flood forecasting and management
  • Municipal, industrial and agricultural water allocation
  • Design and operation of reservoirs and navigation facilities
  • Sediment and pollutant loading and determinations
  • Wastewater treatment plants
  • Power production planning
  • Determining surface water/groundwater inter-relationships
  • Restoration of aquatic system restoration
  • Studying long-term changes in the hydrologic cycle.

Future Developments

Information on river flow is vital for saving lives, protecting property and ensuring enough supply of water for the future.

Stream gauges help in measuring and recording the level of water in the river. In spite of these benefits, a number of stream gauges were terminated due to lack of funding. These stream gauges are of prime importance to study the variations and trends of flow.

The need for streamflow data is high with increasing stresses on world’s water resources. In the mean time, developments in technology such as acoustic measurement methods and satellite telemetry have further increased the value of streamflow information.

However, the progress in modernization of this technology has been slow and the stream gauge network is shrinking more. The stream gauge network has to be completely modernized, and the holes in coverage need to be filled to achieve its true potential.


  • Falcon JA, et al. GAGES: A stream gage database for evaluating natural and altered flow conditions in the conterminous United States. Ecological Society of America. 2010;91(2):621.
  • Cheng AN, et al. Availability of Double-Tube Flood Mark Stream Gauge. Advanced Materials Research. 2012;538-541:2784.
  • The Importance of Stream Gages – Delaware River Basin Commission.
  • Geomorphic applications of stream-gage information – Kansas Water Science Center.

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