I spent 15 minutes entranced watching the Boise River sparkle and the fall leaves rustle on the computer screen in my windowless studio. U.S. Geological Survey hydraulic engineer Molly Wood talked about the features of the USGS Boise River web camera while I played with the controls. I zoomed in on trees upstream and flipped it around to see the cars on the Glenwood Bridge.
Wood says anyone can go to the site and control the camera for a minute at a time. About 2,000 people have since last March, and some of them come back many times.
It’s certainly a cool toy. But Wood says it’s also an important scientific and public safety tool.
“It’s one thing to look at our real time stream flow data and say we’ve got high flow or low flow,” Wood says. “But it’s another thing to visualize what’s actually going on in the river. And it’s been really useful for our cooperating agencies; the Corp of Engineers, the National Weather Service, Ada County emergency managers in watching the conditions during high flows and flooding events.”
Most years, the Boise River’s spring high waters worry property owners along the river and pose challenges for people who use the pathway along its banks. Wood says the web cam is also meant to help them.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers installed this camera for the USGS in the spring of 2012 and has been paying for it since. Last week the Corp told the USGS it could no longer pay the $6,000 a year to keep the camera going. Most of that money is to operate the public interface and for the cell service to beam the images from the camera.
If the USGS can’t find another funding source by November 8 they’ll take it down. Wood is looking for help from other government agencies and non-profits.
“There’s been interest in installing these web cams in other rivers particularly rivers that tend to flood every year like the Weiser River and The Coeur d’Alene River,” Wood says. “But so far this is the only one we’ve got in place. So we really hope we can get support to continue it in hopes that we can grow this network over time.”
Wood says if the USGS can get part, but not all of the money they’ll likely keep the camera up but the public won’t be able to play with it.
Copyright 2013 Boise State Public Radio