History of the Hydromet System
Reclamation Water Projects

About the Hydromet

The Boise/Minidoka Hydromet System (Hydromet) is a data collection and distribution system that supports the Bureau of Reclamation's mission of water resource management. Hydromet data collection supports reservoir and water project operations, water management, and water supply forecasting for Reclamation's multipurpose reservoir systems in the Columbia and Snake River basins. Water uses supported by the Hydromet include flood control, irrigation, power generation, water quality, water conservation, fish and wildlife management, research, and recreation. The Hydromet database provides an excellent source of information for water management planning activities. Reclamation operates several Hydromet systems, including one in Yakima, Washington once known as the Yakima Remote Control System (YRCS).

Why Hydromet Was Developed

Reclamation's original mission in the early 1900's was to provide water and electrical power to allow settlement of the arid western United States. Many areas of the west were too dry to support more than limited populations along the relatively few permanent rivers and streams. Raging flood waters periodically damaged or destroyed communities along these riverbeds. Periodic drought devastated local economies. Reclamation facilities were intended to provide the basic infrastructure elements of a more stable water supply (primarily to support agricultural irrigation) and electricity where feasible. A series of dams and canals were built, 52 of these dams being located in the Pacific Northwest.

Most of these dams were managed by local operators. Streamflows and unmanned dams were monitored by employees going out to remote areas for visual inspections. Up to several days could go by before accurate water data were available for a remote location. Telephones were used to coordinate management efforts throughout the river systems. Adequate, timely information was most difficult to get during severe weather conditions (such as widespread flooding), just when this information was most important. A structural failure in the late 1970s highlighted the importance of having information available when rapid decisions are necessary.

Hydromet Data Collection and Processing

Reclamation's Pacific Northwest Hydromet consists of approximately 300 unmanned data collection platforms located at dams, streams and mountain areas in the Pacific Northwest, plus computer systems in Boise, Idaho and Yakima, Washington. The system also collects data from approximately 1100 similar stations maintained by other organizations. These stations collect data in typically 15- or 60-minute increments, then transmit collected data every 4 hours via the GOES satellite network. Data indicating abnormal conditions can be transmitted more frequently on special satellite channels. Data are received at a central downlink site in Boise (and at NASA facilities in Wallops Island, Virginia for redundancy). Computer systems in Boise process and distribute the data to system users and other organizations.

Other sources of Hydromet data include radio-controlled stations (that can be interrogated at any time) and instrument readings manually entered into the computer system. The relatively short-range radio-controlled sites are commonly found near large water projects where bidirectional control systems or time-critical data are important. Data from the radio sites are transmitted to the central Boise site via Internet links.

Data collection platforms carry a variety of environmental sensors that monitor conditions such as water level, gate position, temperature, precipitation, water and barometric pressure, dissolved gas content, solar radiation, evaporation, wind speed and direction. Many data collection platforms are a result of cooperative agreements between Reclamation and other organizations.

Hydromet data are shared with other Federal and State agencies, other Reclamation offices, universities, public utilities, and agricultural users or other interested parties. Hydromet data are exchanged with comparable data from sources that include the US Army Corps of Engineers, US Geological Survey, the Natural Resources Conservation Service, the Bureau of Land Management, and the US Department of Energy.


The Hydromet system provides a cost-effective way to efficiently manage Reclamation's water resources:

Future development includes expanding use of graphic analysis tools, improving access to legacy data for long-term reasearch and analysis, and improving public access to Hydromet data via the World Wide Web.