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Fact Sheet 2014–3034

The USGS at Embudo, New Mexico: 125 Years of Systematic Streamgaging in the United States

By Mark A. Gunn, Anne Marie Matherne, and Robert R. Mason, Jr.

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (2.42 MB)Abstract

John Wesley Powell, second Director of the U.S. Geological Survey, had a vision for the Western United States. In the late 1800s, Powell explored the West as head of the Geographical and Geological Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region. He devoted a large part of “Report on the Lands of the Arid Region of the United States with a more detailed account of the land of Utah with maps,” his 1878 report to the General Land Office on the lands west of the 100th meridian, to the feasibility of “reclaiming” large portions of this arid land.

Powell recognized that the availability of water was key to the wise settlement of the region. He proposed to inventory all streams in the West to evaluate the potential for irrigation. The essential first step was to gage the flows of the rivers and streams.

A few cities in the Eastern United States had established primitive streamgages as early as the 1870s to acquire data needed for the design of their water supply systems. Their methods generally used constructed channels and dams to enable accurate gaging. These methods were not feasible in the West, and certainly not on the vast scale and extreme range of flows common to western streams. New, more flexible techniques were needed. A site was chosen where these methods could be worked out and developed in a practical setting.

First posted April 18, 2014

For additional information contact:
Director, New Mexico Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
5338 Montgomery Boulevard NE
Albuquerque, New Mexico 87109–1311

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Suggested citation:

Gunn, M.A., Matherne, A.M., and Mason, R.R., Jr., 2014, The USGS at Embudo, New Mexico—125 years of systematic streamgaging in the United States: U.S. Geological Survey Fact Sheet 2014–3034, 4 p.,

ISSN 2327-6916 (print)

ISSN 2327-6932 (online)


Camp Embudo and the First USGS Streamgage

Why a Remote Outpost Like Embudo?

“Men of Good Education and High General Intelligence”

Pioneers of the Craft

Refining the Tools

The Evolution of Streamflow Measurement Techniques

The USGS Streamgage Network

Further Reading

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