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Gauge that uses sonar beams being installed on the Niagara River

FORT NIAGARA - A new acoustic gauge that will use sonar beams to log the velocity of the lower Niagara River at the mouth of Lake Ontario is being installed Thursday.

The gauge will eventually help federal agencies assess how many nutrients pour into the lake from the river.

More than three-quarters of Lake Ontario’s water comes from the Niagara River, according to estimates.

“It is very valuable,” Mike Basile, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency spokesman, said of the new technology.

The acoustic profiler, roughly 10-inch-by-18-inch plastic device, is being affixed to a sheet pile wall at the U.S. Coast Guard Niagara station. It will be submerged in about 10 feet of water.

The device will shoot a pair of sonar beams up to 750 feet into the river and another directly upward in order to calculate meter-per-second flow velocities at different points in the river.

The sonar beams hit small particles in the water and can compute how fast the water moves.

“We’re going to be collecting data continuously,” said Matt McClerren, a hydraulic engineer for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Scientists will then extrapolate the amount of water – and nutrients like phosphorus and nitrogen in it – that pass into and out of Lake Ontario.

Excess nutrients in the water can lead to harmful algal blooms and dead zones in the lake.

conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey at forts Erie and Niagara. The U.S. Geological Survey already samples water at Fort Niagara and Fort Erie to assess the concentrations of nutrients in milligrams-per-liter

“In order to compute loads, we need good discharge data,” said William F. Coon, a hydrologist at the USGS.

A similar gauge is being installed at the eastern end of Lake Ontario, where it empties into the St. Lawrence River.

The gauges cost about $50,000 each and are being paid for through the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. They’re being installed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.