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Get NHD Data

The National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) is stored in a geodatabase implementation of the NHD model. This provides great flexibility and efficiency to allow the data to work well in analysis using a geographic information system (GIS). To maximize the capability of the NHD, users should download the data in a file-based or personal geodatabase known as NHDinGEO. For those using the NHD to create simple maps, a shapefile version known as NHDinSHAPE also is available.

National Snapshot of NHD

A national snapshot of the entire High Resolution NHD from February 2015 is now available in a file geodatabase. Anyone is welcome to give it a try and give us feedback. It is a large download (10 GB), and we advise using ftp client software, which allows you to resume a transfer in case of a failure. Examples of such software include WinSCP, CyberDuck, and FileZilla. (The use of firm, trade, or brand names is for identification purposes only and does not constitute endorsement by the U.S. Geological Survey. The names mentioned in this document may be trademarks or registered trademarks of their respective trademark owners. Use appropriate caution when downloading and installing software from the Internet.) This file geodatabase includes just the basic NHD feature classes and tables in a slightly modified data model. It is available for download here. Note the USGS does not currently provide a national snapshot such as this on a regular basis. Please provide feedback via email to on whether this type of national database would be useful to you, in addition to the current subregion (4-digit HUC), subbasin (8-digit HUC), and state downloads.

There are Five ways to access the data. These methods are based on the organization of hydrographic data into hydrologic units. These are drainage areas nested in a four-level hierarchy with a 2-digit identifier for each level.
  • The first method allows the use of an interactive viewer to select subbasin units at the fourth level of the hierarchy. The data will be packaged and made available via email notification, which usually takes 1 to 2 hours.
  • The second method is based on pre-staging the NHD into second-level 4-digit subregion units. Go the appropriate high, medium, or local resolution folder and select the desired files for instant download. The NHD Viewer can be used to help find the desired 4-digit file.
  • The third method allows for data extraction by state in the form of a file geodatabase in high resolution. Click on this link to go to the ftp site containing the data. Open the ftp site in Internet Explorer. It will not work in Mozilla Firefox.
  • The fourth method allows for data extraction of only Streamgages and Dams. Click on this link to go to the ftp site containing the data. Open the ftp site in Internet Explorer. It will not work in Mozilla Firefox.
  • Watershed Boundaries can be downloaded independently from hydrography through the NRCS Geospatial Data Gateway.

Using the NHD Viewer, additional data themes can be overlaid to help identify the area of interest. These themes include shaded terrain, boundaries, transportation, cities, map graphics, aerial imagery, and others. You can also visit EPA's Surf Your Watershed Web site if you need to locate the subbasin of interest to you, or don't know the subbasin number. The NHD data are stored and made available at two levels of resolution: one is nominally at 1:24,000-scale known as high resolution, and the other is at 1:100,000-scale known as medium resolution. A limited amount of data are available at nominally 1:5,000-scale known as local resolution. The high resolution level may contain a mixture of scales at 1:24,000-scale or higher.

The NHD data are organized into several forms of geometry and into several supporting tables:

Geometry: The geodatabase contains two Feature Datasets of geometry. The Hydrography feature dataset contains the NHD whereas the Hydrographic Units feature dataset contains the Watershed Boundary Dataset (WBD).

Hydrography: This feature dataset contains nine forms of geometry known as Feature Classes. The most critical is NHDFlowline.
NHDFlowline: This is the fundamental flow network consisting predominantly of stream/river and artificial path vector features. It represents the spatial geometry, carries the attributes, models the water flow, and contains linear referencing measures for locating events on the network. Additional NHDFlowline features are canal/ditch, pipeline, connector, underground conduit, and coastline.

Two types of polygons represent area features.
NHDWaterbody: Basic waterbodies such as lake/pond features are represented here. They portray the spatial geometry and the attributes of the feature. These water polygons may contain NHDFlowline artificial paths to allow the representation of water flow. Other NHDWaterbody features are swamp/marsh, reservoir, playa, estuary, and ice mass.

NHDArea: This feature class contains many additional features of water polygons. One of the more important is the stream/river feature. It represents the aerial extent of the water in a wide stream/river with a basic set of attributes. They typically contain NHDFlowline artificial paths that are used to model the stream/river. Artificial path carries the critical attributes of the stream/river, whereas NHDArea represents the geometric extent.

Two other feature classes are used to represent features. NHDLine contains linear features not core to the network, and NHDPoint contains hydrography related point features.

Finally, an additional three feature classes represent point, line, and area data events that behave as map features and linearly referenced events. Streamgages, which are point features, can be displayed and identified in the network through linear referencing with a network address. These feature classes are NHDPointEventFC, NHDLineEventFC, and NHDAreaEventFC.

Tables: Information about the NHD also can be obtained in a series of associated tables. This includes metadata stored in NHDFeaturetoMetadata and NHDMetadata, sources given in NHDSourceCitation, identification of model and data version given in NHDProcessingParameters, flow relations given in NHDFlow, reach code histories given in NHDReachCrossReference, the domain of feature codes given in NHDFCode, and others.

Some of the files on this page are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Acrobat Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Acrobat Reader, free of charge.

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Last modified: Tuesday, 07-Jul-2015 10:49:38 EDT