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The Hydrography Requirements and Benefits Study (HRBS)

HRBS Resources

 HRBS Executive Summary

 Preliminary Report of the Hydrography Requirements and Benefits Study

 List of HRBS Business Uses

 Hydrography Applications Stories by Business Use

Introduction | Benefits from Improved Hydrography | Hydrography Application Stories | Partners in HRBS


Hydrography data provided by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) have long been a valuable resource for many organizations. The data have assisted with monitoring water quality and availability, agriculture, flood risk management, environmental health, and coastal processes, among many others. The Hydrography Requirements and Benefits Study (HRBS) was initiated to review and understand current and future user requirements and the associated benefits for improved hydro data. An online questionnaire was completed by over 500 USGS hydrography data users from local, state, federal, and tribal governments, nonprofit organizations, academia, and the private sector. The participants provided:

  1. details on one or more Mission Critical Activities (MCAs). MCAs are applications within an organization that require hydrography data. Each MCA was linked to a specific Business Use and current and future quantitative and qualitative benefits were requested. Basic hydrography data requirements tied to the MCA (data scale, update cycle) were collected.
  2. the importance of related geospatial data that complement the MCA, such as elevation, land cover, wetlands, geology, and many others. Participants were asked which hydrography characteristics were important such as data visualization, network analysis, or bathymetry.
  3. preferences for general hydrography data access and condition – to include data extents, data format, and error severity.

Benefits from Improved Hydrography

The HRBS questionnaire asked participants about their annual program budget and the benefits realized by using currently available USGS hydrography data for their Mission Critical Activities. It also asked participants what new future benefits would be received from improved hydrographic information meeting all the requirements for the MCA.

The MCAs were grouped by Business Use and the benefits entered for the top ten Business Uses are listed in the table below. The table is ranked by the estimated future annual benefits shown in the right column.

Annual Benefits

RankBusiness UseCurrent
(in millions)
(in millions)
1River and Stream Flow Management$220.07$154.73
2Water Quality$115.46$121.48
3Water Resource Planning and Management$98.11$115.88
4Flood Risk Management$56.12$75.86
5River and Stream Ecosystem Management$13.96$67.00
6Natural Resources Conservation$10.17$17.76
7Wildlife and Habitat Management$0.18$10.08
8Infrastructure and Construction Management$1.65$8.73
9Forest Resources Management$1.76$6.01
10Coastal Zone Management$10.71$5.55

Hydrography Application Stories

All the over 400 Mission Critical Activities (MCAs) reported through the questionnaire were linked to the Business Use that best described the MCA. A list of 25 Business Uses was provided for participants to select from. Numerous details were recorded for each MCA. From this rich content, examples highlighting how hydrography data are utilized to support each of the Business Uses can be written. The example below shows how U.S. Forest Service uses hydrography data to provide watershed data in support of the Forest Resources Management Business Use. Links to all HRBS Business Uses and the stories illustrating each can be found at the bottom of the page.

Forest Resources Management (Business Use 7)

Forest land management programs involve conducting forest inventories, management of forest resources, watershed protection, flood calculation, bridge design, maintenance of aquatic passage, water diversion upgrades, stream and wetland restoration, riparian management, stream and habitat surveys, watershed condition classification, water quality monitoring, protection of drinking water sources, grazing management, and recreational facility/management, among other activities. Hydrography data including accurate locations of watersheds, streams, lakes, wetlands, seeps, springs and other water resources features are needed for all of these activities.

The U.S. Forest Service (USFS) administers 193 million acres of national forests and grasslands. Forests store and filter more than half of the Nation’s water supply and absorb approximately 12 percent of the country’s carbon emissions.

USFS developed the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF) to provide a consistent approach for classifying the condition of watersheds on the Nation’s forests and grasslands. USFS established three watershed condition classes (functioning properly, functioning at risk, and impaired function) to assess, classify, prioritize, and monitor progress toward maintaining or improving watershed condition.

Implementation began in 2011 by classifying 15,034 watersheds that contain substantial acreages of National Forest Service lands as shown in the figure below. USFS has identified more than 300 priority watersheds. From FY 2011 to FY 2014, 34 watersheds were restored to a fully functioning condition. Plans are for USFS to restore an additional 39 watersheds in fiscal years 2015 and 2016. Additionally, USFS has collaboratively developed 260 Watershed Restoration Action Plans and implementation schedules with partners for appropriate treatments to restore the condition of priority watersheds nationwide. A link to the Watershed Condition Framework can be found here:

USFS watershed condition classification of the National Forest System lands. Image courtesy of USFS.

Partners in HRBS

HRBS was conducted by Dewberry (a consulting firm based in Fairfax, VA) under a contract from the U.S. Geological Survey, with support from the USGS National Geospatial Program (NGP), the USGS Office of Water Information (OWI) and the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS).

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