A string of thefts has shut down a number of U.S. Geological Survey river gauges in three counties, including one near Bellingham in Whatcom County.
Five gauges have been hit including the Mill Creek station near Bellingham on Wednesday, May 18, according to the USGS Washington Water Science Center.
That many is unusual, when there may be a theft of one or two for an entire year.
“This is abnormal, very abnormal,” said Darrin Miller, chief of the center’s Northwest Washington Field Office.
A satellite antenna was taken from the Mill Creek gauge on May 18 between 9:15 and 10:15 p.m., the last time stream data was transmitted real time from that site to the USGS website.
A theft hasn’t occurred here for three or four years.
The data transmitted by such stream gauges help people, public agencies and utilities to track river flow for safety, flooding levels, fish habitat, power generation and water quality.
As for the other four gauges, Miller said the solar-charging systems and 12-volt systems were stolen.
The other stations were in Skagit County, in the Cascade River at Marblemount and the Sauk River near Sauk, and in Snohomish County, in the Sauk River at Darrington and the White Chuck River near Darrington.
They went down from May 18 to Sunday, May 22.
The cost to replace them, including labor, is about $8,000.
Just one station, the one near Sauk, has been repaired and is transmitting data again.
The Sauk-Suitattle Tribe, which works with the USGS, also reported having equipment stolen from its gauges, starting on May 17. Miller said batteries were taken from the tribe’s gauges, along with two solar panels and an entire electronic data logger — for a total loss of more than $10,000.
People who know about the thefts or see a possible theft are encouraged to call local law enforcement.