USGS WaterAlert Service

ArticleMay 24, 2011

WaterAlert is a free service from the US Geological Survey (USGS) that notifies you—either by email or text message—when flows on your favorite stream reach or surpass a threshold set by you. If there’s a rapid, play wave or riffle you’re hoping to hit at just the right time, WaterAlert is a foolproof way to make certain you don’t miss it. You can set up the system to let you know when streams are running over or under a certain cubic feet per second (cfs) or gauge height, or within or outside a specific range.

NRS customer Chris Prechel brought this great boater resource to our attention—thanks a lot, Chris! To show you how WaterAlert works, NRS Director of Marketing Mark Deming walks you through an example of how he set up a flow alert:

One of my favorite rivers to fish here in Idaho is the South Fork of the Boise River. The 26-mile stretch between Anderson Ranch Dam and Neal Bridge is beautiful, and if you hit it at the right time, you’ll find some of the best wild rainbow trout fishing anywhere. Hit it at the wrong time, however, and you’re liable to get skunked. Trust me, I know.

A great time to fish the South Fork is when stoneflies are hatching and flows below the dam are at or below 1,800 cfs. Late June and July are your best bet for meeting both criteria, but it’s far from a sure thing. When I made the trip late last June, the stoneflies were hatching, but flows were around 2,000 cfs. My friends and I had good waves on our two-day float, but little luck fishing. (Of course, the operators of Anderson Ranch Dam reduced discharge to ideal levels not long after our trip.) This year, we’ll wait until flows drop to put the rafts and fly lines in the water. And thanks to the new WaterAlert service provided by the USGS, I won’t have to endanger my employment by constantly monitoring flows on the internet at work. Instead, I’ll receive an email when conditions are right for hitting the water. Now, if only someone would come up with a bug alert to let me know when the stoneflies are hatching!

How to use WaterAlert

  1. Visit the USGS WaterAlert site at There’s some info at the top on how the system works. Scroll down on the page to find the Site Selection box.
  2. Select a “State or Territory” (Idaho, for example) and “Data Type” (Surface Water) from the menu on the left hand side of the screen.
  3. This will bring up your region on an interactive map. You can use the “Zoom Box” feature to help you find your gauge. Hovering over the triangle icons representing USGS gauges will display their locations. In my case, “SF BOISE AT ANDERSON RANCH DAM ID.”
  4. Click on your gauge. A window will appear with the gauge name and profile (site number, current discharge and gauge height, etc.).
  5. Click on the 'Subscribe' button. A new window containing a subscription form will appear.
  6. Choose how you’d like to receive alerts—by email or mobile phone (by text message).
  7. Choose whether you’d like to receive notifications on a daily or hourly basis. (Note to management: I chose daily.)
  8. Select “Discharge (cfs)” or “Gauge Height (ft)” as your preferred measurement standard.
  9. Set your “Threshold Condition.” Choose “Greater than,” “Less than,” “Outside a range” or “Inside a range,” and then enter the numbers. (Ignore the bird beaks, which are just confusing.) I asked the system to alert me when South Fork flows were less than 1,850 cfs.
  10. Click on the box that says you’ve read the fine print, even though you haven’t, and then click “Submit” to register for WaterAlert. To complete the process, you’ll need to reply to the auto-generated email or text message sent by WaterAlert.

In the words of NRS customer Chris Prechel, who brought WaterAlert to our attention, “Enjoy the new toy! And some say the government doesn't spend our tax dollars wisely!!!”