Written by: Evan Jones
After 25 years of loyal service, the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) national streamflow tracking website has been completely redesigned. Launched in September after several years of internal development, the National Water Dashboard and corresponding Next Generation Monitoring Pages seek to modernize this popular tool by making it more visually-engaging and more mobile-friendly. They also claim the new version is more intuitive, although it would seem that many veteran users of the classic system disagree, at least for the time being. Speaking of the classic system, you can still use it if that’s what you prefer, but only until January 1, 2023 when it will be permanently phased out. Like it or not, the new system is here to stay, so it’s probably best to familiarize yourself with it now.
USGS has released a brief tutorial video on how to use the next generation pages (see below), and they’ve also created an in-depth blog post on the subject if you prefer reading. They’re both fairly informative, but there is one crucial detail I wish I’d known earlier: the mobile version of the National Water Dashboard is significantly more user-friendly than the desktop version. Not only does the phone’s touchscreen make navigating the map easier, but the mobile version automatically zooms in to your current location. The menus also function a bit more intuitively. On mobile, clicking a gauge site link will show a pop-up window loaded with useful data, along with a clear link to the next generation “site page,” which contains a lot more detail.
On the desktop version, however, when you click on a gauge site, the only data initially displayed are charts showing discharge and gauge height for the past week. It’s easy to miss the “site page” link on these desktop windows, as it’s much smaller and crammed into the upper right corner. Without it, you won’t be able to see historic flows, comparisons to median flows, detailed elevation maps of the drainage area, or the option to switch back to the classic view.
In a rather uncharacteristic move for a government agency, USGS seems eager to receive user feedback for their new system. Since their data is heavily relied upon by fly anglers across the country, this could be a rare opportunity to help improve this valuable public resource. After you’ve had a chance to poke around a bit, there’s a link to provide feedback in the bottom right corner of the main National Water Dashboard page.
An example of a Next Generation Monitoring Page for the Battenkill station located just over the state line in New York. The orange line represents current flows, while the purple line underneath shows what the flows were at this same time last year. (What a difference a year can make!)