The U.S. Geological Survey is the federal government’s premiere Earth science agency and the world’s gold standard for water monitoring. Since 1889 when the famed explorer and USGS head John Wesley Powell initiated the stream gauging program, federal scientists have muddied their boots to collect data on water quality, river flows, and groundwater.
The data are available to the public at no cost and are widely used. Engineers need information on river flows to design bridges and roads that will not crumble when rivers rise. The National Weather Service uses the frequent stream gauge measurements, typically taken once every 15 minutes, to forecast floods. Scientists around the world tap the database for research.
The National Water Information System website, which houses the USGS data, gets millions of requests each month. Roughly one-third of the queries come from the .com domain, evidence that businesses take a keen interest in the data too.