Can’t rule out stupidity.

Two gauges that measure the flow of the Mattole River were vandalized over the weekend, temporarily throwing a wrench into the works of a program to monitor the amount of water in the drought-stricken stream.

The first U.S. Geological Survey gauge in Ettersburg was hit on May 31 at 10 p.m. The solar panel that charges its batteries was torn out and its antenna — which transmits the information — was cut and removed. Three hours later, vandals hit another gauge near Petrolia in similar fashion.

This article about vandalized gauges on the Mattole River cracked me up. I mean, it is actually sad, because that equipment costs money and we need the flow data. But it was still funny. There are three possible reasons for the vandalism. The article quotes some director-guy as saying that vandals did that deliberately to obscure information about the river. Maybe rights holders don’t want anyone to know how much they’re draining the river.

That’s possible, but I got to tell you. When I was taught to design anything, any stupid uncontroversial gate in a water district, my professors hammered home the design criteria that everything we make must be bullet proof. The folks out there shoot anything, all the time. If it stands out in any way, it is a target. Half the boxes (for circuitry and telemetry) at the gates we go to have bullet indentations in them, just because. No one hates them. No one is sending a message. They just get shot at. So you can’t rule out the possibility that this vandalism was the usual dumb vandalism.

My friend suggests a different reason. I’m so used to water scarcity and fish limits and policy disputes, but that’s not what she says. “On the Mattole?” she says. “Those are pot growers. They don’t want anyone seeing their unauthorized diversions and sending out helicopters.” Compared to all the usual complexity in resource disputes, that sounds like such a pure and straightforward reason to break a couple gauges.


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3 responses to “Can’t rule out stupidity.

  1. I had an even simpler thought; solar panels are worth money and easy to reinstall elsewhere.

  2. Delbert Grady

    Where do I start on this topic? I’ve supported gages for over fifteen years and have seen my share of vandalism and theft.

    As stated earlier, gages are built to be bullet proof (literally). They’re also constructed in such a way as to have the access lock protected against bolt cutters, hacksaws and sledge hammers. We also use industrial strength locks (with non standard keys).

    They still get through.

    When they get through, I’ve yet to see them steal anything but the battery and on rare occasion – a solar panel. My big ticket items, the data logger, radio, sensors and misc electronics are normally left alone. Considering the cost of a Sontek SW, Bubbler or Data Logger, you are looking at some serious costs here. The one item that is physically cheap but invaluable – is the site log. In here, we make all of our documented changes, notes and calibrations. When the book gets chucked in the river, we have to reconstruct the record. A time consuming process.

    River gages are what we call an ‘attractive nuesense’. They have parking (close to the River), can be used as an impromptu diving platform, and normally has a ‘cool cable car’ that every teenage kid wants to take a crack at. Most of our after hours visitors usually ‘gives something back’. Usually, this is in the form of graffiti and trash left at the site.

    As I’ve had years of first hand exposure to this. By far, teenagers and men in their early 20’s cause the most grief. The young men being the most destructive (they usually carry more tools and alcohol). Teens usually Tag and Trash.

    Normally, you would assume that we’re talking about low-lifes, riff-raff, etc. Normally, that’s correct. Alcohol is the great equalizer here. I’ve had sites trashed by respectable citizens too. However, they were drunk at the time.

    The river usually attracts residents that, shall I say, think outside of the box. These people usually live in an old motorhome, have several unleashed dogs and look like they were displaced from the 60’s. Yeah, I know – You’ve seen ’em too…

    These people normally do not steal or vandalize as a rule, but they are unstable and in some cases, armed.

    BTW, the problem gets worse every year.


  3. Wow. That’s even worse than I thought. I’m glad your telemetry stuff usually gets left alone. At least there’s that.