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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 the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Natural Resources Conservation Service

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The Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) is a seamless, national hydrologic unit dataset developed using the guidelines and specifications outlined in this document. A hydrologic unit defines the areal extent of surface-water drainage to an outlet point on a dendritic stream network or to outlet points where the stream network is not dendritic. A hydrologic unit may represent all or only part of the total drainage area to the outlet point so that multiple hydrologic units may be required to define the entire drainage area for a given outlet. Hydrologic unit boundaries in the WBD are determined on the basis of topographic, hydrologic, and other relevant landscape characteristics without regard for administrative, political, or jurisdictional boundaries. The WBD seamlessly represents hydrologic units at six required and two optional hierarchical levels mapped at a minimum of 1:24,000-scale in the United States, except for in Hawaii, the Caribbean, and the Pacific Islands, which are at 1:25,000-scale, and in Alaska, where the data range from the minimum required 1:24,000-scale to 1:63,360-scale. Hydrologic units in the WBD provide a standardized base for water-resources organizations to locate, store, retrieve, and exchange hydrologic data; to index and inventory hydrologic data and information; to catalog water-data acquisition activities; and to use in a variety of other applications.

The specifications and procedures established in this document are intended to provide guidelines and best practices to local, regional, and national partners for delineating and updating the hydrologic units of the WBD. Maintaining the WBD using consistent practices improves watershed management through efficient sharing of information and resources and by ensuring that digital geographic data can be used with other related geographic information system data. Edits and additions to the hydrologic units are reviewed against this specification prior to inclusion to the national WBD.

First posted March 11, 2009

Revised October 7, 2022

For additional information contact:
Director, Utah Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
2329 West Orton Circle
West Valley City, Utah 84119
(801) 908–5000
Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) State Stewards

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Suggested citation:

Jones, K.A., Niknami, L.S., Buto, S.G., and Decker, D., 2022, Federal standards and procedures for the national Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD) (5 ed.): U.S. Geological Survey Techniques and Methods 11-A3, 54 p.,






History and Governance

Program Management and Stewardship

Geospatial Data Structure


Data Access

Specifications for Hydrologic Unit Boundary Delineations for the Watershed Boundary Dataset

Data Editing and Quality Assurance

References Cited


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Page Last Modified: Wednesday, October 19, 2022, 11:28:54 AM