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Techniques and Methods 11–A3

Federal Standards and Procedures for the National Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD)

By U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (1.20 MB)Abstract

The Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) is a comprehensive aggregated collection of hydrologic unit data consistent with the national criteria for delineation and resolution. This document establishes Federal standards and procedures for creating the WBD as seamless and hierarchical hydrologic unit data, based on topographic and hydrologic features at a 1:24,000 scale in the United States, except for Alaska at 1:63,360 scale, and 1:25,000 scale in the Caribbean. The data within the WBD have been reviewed for certification through the 12-digit hydrologic unit for compliance with the criteria outlined in this document. Any edits to certified data will be reviewed against this standard prior to inclusion. Although not required as part of the framework WBD, the guidelines contain details for compiling and delineating the boundaries of two additional levels, the 14- and 16-digit hydrologic units, as well as the use of higher resolution base information to improve delineations. The guidelines presented herein are designed to enable local, regional, and national partners to delineate hydrologic units consistently and accurately. Such consistency improves watershed management through efficient sharing of information and resources and by ensuring that digital geographic data are usable with other related Geographic Information System (GIS) data.

Terminology, definitions, and procedural information are provided to ensure uniformity in hydrologic unit boundaries, names, and numerical codes. Detailed standards and specifications for data are included. The document also includes discussion of objectives, communications required for revising the data resolution in the United States and the Caribbean, as well as final review and data-quality criteria. Instances of unusual landforms or artificial features that affect the hydrologic units are described with metadata standards. Up-to-date information and availability of the hydrologic units are listed at

First posted May 22, 2012

For additional information contact:
Karen M. Hanson

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Suggested citation:

U.S. Geological Survey and U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service, 2012, Federal Standards and Procedures for the National Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) (3d ed.): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 11–A3, 63 p., available only at






Criteria and Considerations for Delineating Hydrologic Units

Required Geographic Data Sources and Recommended Techniques for Boundary Delineation

Coding and Naming 10-, 12-, 14-, and 16-Digit Hydrologic Units

Geospatial Data Structure

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Data Revision, Checkout, Editing, Verification, and Submittal


Selected References


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