RAPID CITY, S.D. -

If someone said “stream gage station,” would you know what that means? Or that it’s spelled “gage” instead of “gauge”?

Scientists rely on such equipment to measure the depth, temperature and speed of water at a particular point. The results, collected over decades, ultimately provide you with weather forecasts and other information.

These silent sentinels – there are 120 in South Dakota and 7,500 nationally – typically hide in plain sight. 

Now there is one in Rapid City for you to look over.

Federal, state and local workers on Wednesday dedicated what they call the “showcase stream gage” along Rapid Creek at Founders Park, just off Omaha Street.

The U.S. Geological Survey station is at the M-Hill hiking trailhead near Founders’ Rock, signed by John Brennan and others who started Rapid City. The station features displays about improving water quality and tracking flooding. You can use your smart phone to learn what this equipment does and receive the reports it produces.

There’s been a gaging station at or near this site since 1942. The historic 1972 flood washed out the monitor. Today’s station, installed last fall, replaces the successor of the 1972 device.

National Weather Service meteorologist Dave Carpenter says reports ranging from dangerous flood conditions to the outlook for fun recreational outings depend on such automated field equipment.

"It requires these networks of stream gages, the precipitation gauges, measuring rainfall, measuring river flow to make a good forecast, to make one where people can have confidence."

Jim Hawke, past president of the Black Hills Fly Fishers, is a believer after seeing how South Dakota’s Game, Fish & Parks Department makes use of the stream gage information.

"In layman's terms, we would have to say that the data that they use is good for us because they're helping protect a precious resource, and that's the fish."