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Little cable cars over Rogue not for squirrels

What is that little metal car that sits on a cable that spans the Rogue River near where the old Gold Ray Dam used to be? It looks like some sort of emergency device to shuttle people and supplies across the river during a flood. But if that was the case, shouldn’t it be bigger?

— M.M.M., Medford

What you see there is not some sort of low-tech device to ferry squirrels across the river during floods, 3M.

That is part of a sophisticated and expensive device that monitors flows in the Rogue at the U.S. Geological Survey’s gauging station. The device is used to measure flows in rivers too deep or swift for wading and where there is not a bridge available.

The gauge is sunk into the river there and it sends readings via satellite to computers that convert the data into cubic feet per second, the standard unit for flow.

Every six weeks, one or two USGS employees use that little cableway to manually measure the flows to further calibrate the program used to compute flows at that particular gauge.

A person sits in the little car and wheels out across the river, lowering a device similar to a fish finder that measures flow.

If you want to see a longer explanation and schematic details of exactly what the cableways look like, Google “USGS Cableway” and see the service’s official explanation.

There are six of those gauges and cableways in Jackson County — four on the Rogue and two on the Applegate River. One on Bear Creek in downtown Medford was removed. Bear Creek measurements are now taken at the footbridge between Hawthorne Park and Riverside Avenue.

Send questions to “Since You Asked,” Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We’re sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.