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Frequently Asked Questions

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How do stream gauges work?

Water-level gauges use a sensor called a pressure transducer to determine the depth of water, or "stage." Once the stage is known, the flow rate or discharge (usually expressed as cubic feet per second, or cfs) is calculated using a rating curve.

The rain gauges read in millimeters. That is, one tip from the tipping bucket represents one millimeter of rain. One millimeter is equal to 0.03937 inches, and it is this number (in inches) that the computer uses to perform calculations. Typically, precipitation is reported to the 100th of an inch.

How accurate is the system?

The accuracy for the rain gauges is reported at +/- 1.5% for precipitation rates of zero to 150 mm per hour. The pressure transducers have an accuracy rating of +/- 0.1%

How are gauge locations determined?

The location of rain gauges depends on local weather patterns, flood hazard or potential, City projects, location of channels, permitting requirements, environmental factors, watershed boundaries, potential for vandalism, land availability and the proximity of existing gauges. Sometimes, two gauges may be close to each other, but have very different roles. For instance, Spring Creek at Centre Avenue and Spring Creek at the Burlington Northern Railroad embankment are within a quarter-mile of each other. However, each is measuring the stage in a different water-detention area.

Is the benefit of such a gauging network worth the cost?

While the initial cost of a radio-telemetered gauging network is substantial, the maintenance costs are relatively small. The network protects human life and property by allowing for early notification and emergency response. Other benefits include historic rainfall and streamflow data accumulation, use of the data in hydrology models and an increased understanding of Fort Collins-area hydrology, all of which aids in decision-making and planning.

How do I know if I am in a floodplain area?

Fort Collins Utilities offers maps and explanations for the various floodplains and issues in the city.