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An end to an era: River gage reader changes Mississippi River gage

St. Louis District
Published June 29, 2021
Art Denkmann retires from volunteering as a gauge reader for the St. Louis District during a ceremony on the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Mo.

Art Denkmann retires from volunteering as a gauge reader for the St. Louis District during a ceremony on the Mississippi River in St. Louis, Mo.

There is an end to an era of manual data collection. After nine decades of River Gage Readers, and Art Denkmann serving three of these decades, it now comes to an end.  

Just a few years shy of being a century old, the collection of data by gage reader observations on the Mississippi River at St. Louis, Mo., comes to an end. This river gage has been in place since March of 1933. Throughout the years tourists, locals, and navigation interests have passed by this river front gage which now has been officially replaced with a Data Collection Platform system.     

Art Denkmann has been watching the ebb and flow of the river his entire life and has been a humble servant to U.S. Army Corps of Engineers every day for the past 55 years as a dedicated gage reader. A title that he took very seriously.    

Many milestones have passed on the Mississippi River during Mr. Denkmann’s career as a gage reader such as droughts, the opening of Melvin Price Locks and Dam, the great flood of 1993 and the 2019 flood, along with the many enhancements to the St. Louis Riverfront. He remembers many fluctuations in river stages and recalled that communication between the upstream and downstream gage readers was difficult. However, as time went on it has improved immensely, and the new DCP system will enhance the gage reading process even more.

River gage readings are posted on the River and Reservoir Report found on the St. Louis District’s website that is referenced by those who boat or work on the river. Biologists use the data to assess fish habitat and river forecasters use the data readings to estimate how bad floods may get.

The manual gage readers are being replaced with the DCP system. This system can provide a reading every fifteen minutes and the data will be sent via satellite telemetry, with the numbers updated online.

“The Corps of Engineers monitors 129 gages daily in the region. A centennial gage like the St. Louis gage has been invaluable when formulating flood watches and warnings and producing river stage forecasts,” Joan Stemler, St. Louis District Water Control chief said.

Data from the St. Louis gage is used to analyze long-term trends as well. Those include the impact of climate change, urban growth, and estimating how much water seeps into the ground joining the Mississippi River watershed that drains 31 states and two Canadian provinces.

Art was presented with a Certificate of Appreciation from the District’s Water control team today for his years of heading down to the Mississippi Riverfront to take the daily readings from the St. Louis gage and passing it on to the Water Control team at the St. Louis Riverfront.

Today, marks the end of an era, Art will continue to build model trains and maintain his own personal railroad in his home. With that, we bid him a very fond farewell.