What is a Watershed?

• How do we locate watershed boundaries? • How do we determine watershed area and other topographic characteristics?

A watershed is the land area that topographically drains to a particular point, sometimes called a watershed outlet or pour point.

Watershed outlet or “pour point”.

Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (http://www.oregon.gov/OWEB/WSHEDS/wsheds_overview.shtml)

Watersheds can be any size, with smaller watersheds (sometimes called sub-watersheds) nested within larger watersheds
Sub-Watershed outlet

Watershed outlet

Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board (http://www.oregon.gov/OWEB/WSHEDS/wsheds_overview.shtml)

Watersheds are defined by topography

Topographic maps represent a 3 dimensional landscape in 2 dimensions, with contour lines connecting points of approximately equal elevation.

The difference between the highest and lowest elevations in a region is known as “relief”. Contour lines that are closer together indicate steeper slope. Valleys, or areas of converging flow where streams are likely to form can often be identified where contour lines form a “V” shape pointing up hill, although the V may be rounded into a U.

Areas where a contour lines form a V or U shape pointing down hill are areas of flow divergence, which often divide watersheds.

Ignoring infiltration into the soil, surface water flows down hill perpendicular to the contour lines in paths represented as “flowlines”.

Flowlines tend to converge on streams and other low lying depressions and water bodies. There are an infinite number of flowlines that can be drawn on any watershed. The boundaries of a watershed are the outer limits of the flowlines that arrive at a particular pour point. In flat areas, identifying flow lines becomes more difficult

Watershed Delineation Using GIS Techniques
1) Import topographic map image file (.tiff) into ArcGIS
Tiff files of topographic maps for Illinois are available here http://www.isgs.uiuc.edu/nsdihome/webdocs/drgs/ Use ArcGIS graphics features to outline the watershed and the measurement tool can be used to to measure area and distances, although a conversion factor may be needed to .

2) Web based delineation based at Purdue

3) Obtain Digital Elevation Model (DEM) and utilize GIS software to determine watershed boundaries

USGS 7.5’ quads For Illinois


USGS Topographic maps are produced at a range of scales, covering different quadrangles

Quadrangle Type 7½ minute* 15 minute 30 minute 60 minute 1/2 degree by 1 degree* 1 degree by 2 degree*

Coverage (Latitude x Longitude) 7½' by 7½' 15' x 15' 30' x 30' 60' x 60' (or 1° x 1°) 30' x 60' (or ½° x 1°) 1° x 2 °

Common Scale 1:24,000 1:62,500 1:125,000 1:250,000 1:100,000 1:250,000

* Maps commonly available in continental U.S. Other scales found on older maps, though 15' maps are still used for Alaska.

Homework Assignment: determine the area relief, longest flow path length and slope for the watershed that drains to the red arrow

Digitial Elevation Models (DEMs) and GIS for Watershed delineation DEMs can be obtained from the USGS National Elevation Dataset (NED) http://ned.usgs.gov/

After the DEM for the area of interest is obtained from NED, it needs to be oriented to the appropriate projection. In order to determine watershed boundary and area, the depressions need to be filled (virtually), the flow direction of each pixel determined, and then the basin boundary and flow accumulation functions can be run

The boundaries of major watersheds in the US have been established and organized into a hierarchy of hydrologic units Regions: 2 digit ID numbers, or hydrologic unit codes (HUCs) Sub-regions: 4 digit HUCs Accounting units: 6 digit HUCs Cataloging units: 8 digit HUCs

Water Resources Regions illustrated on the National Atlas

Brown lines: Sub-region boundaries Red lines: Accounting Unit boundaries Yellow lines: Cataloging Unit boundaries

Where there are no red lines, the accounting unit is the same as subregion

Boundary between Upper Illinois River Sub-Region (HUC = 0712) and Lower Illinois River Sub-region (HUC= 0713)

Salt Creek (Salt Fork of Sangamon R. according to IEPA) Cataloging unit HUC= 07130009 All cataloging units in the Lower Illinois Sub-basin will start with 0713

Salt Creek / Salt Fork, Sangamon River HUCs Region: 07 Subregion: 0713 Accounting Unit: 071300 Cataloging Unit: 07130009 (ILEIJ01 is an identification system of IEPA) and three 12 digit hydrologic Sub-units

Hydrologic unit maps are available from the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) nhd.usgs.gov


Hydrologic Unit Codes are not the same as stream flow gage numbers, although a similar numbering system is employed. For instance, all the stream gage ID numbers in the Mississippi River Basin above St. Louis begin with 05 (while the HUCs begin with 07). Flow gages on a river will have 8 similar digit numbers. For instance an up stream flow gage # for Salt Creek near Rowell is 05578500 the down stream flow gage for Salt Creek near Greenview is 05582000, but the 8 digit HUC is 07130009.

05580950 05580000 05578500 05582000 05579500

10 digit HUCs and USGS stream gage locations

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