FGDC Open Water Data Initiative

The United States faces increasing pressures on the nation’s water supply from shifting demographics, aging infrastructure and increasing complexities from climate change. This is further complicated by the various roles that over 26 Federal agencies, and countless state and local entities play in collecting, reporting and synthesizing water information. Quantifying the availability, use, and risks to our national water resources is strategic and security issue for the present and the foreseeable future. Improving access to data across the Federal enterprise, and enabling open exchange of water information is foundational to understanding existing water resources issues and developing sustainable future solutions. To address this challenge, the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) launched the Open Water Data Initiative (OWDI) in the summer of 2014. 


The goal of the OWDI is to integrate currently fragmented water information into a connected, national water data framework by leverage existing systems, infrastructure and tools to underpin innovation, modeling, data sharing, and solution development. Moreover, the adoption of community data standards, protocols, and ontologies is critical to this effort.

Agencies managing the OWDI include the Department of the Interior (DOI), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), National Weather Service (NWS) in partnership with other agencies and organizations, such as the University of Texas, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (BOR).  Though OWDI is supported and guided through the commitment of these agencies and partners, its success and effectiveness are due to a growing grassroots, cross-sector movement. The Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI) and FGDC created the Subcommittee on Spatial Water Data (SSWD) to assist coordination of Federal and non-Federal interests in spatial water data. Since reinventing the FGDC/ACWI Subcommittee on Spatial Water Data (SSWD) as the home of OWDI, the subcommittee has grown its participants to over 90 representatives of more than 30 organizations that span Federal, state, local governments and includes participation from industry leaders, nonprofits, and academia. 

The FGDC National Geospatial Data Asset (NGDA) Portfolio Management reporting for water-related data is through the Inland Waters Theme that is comprised of five datasets of the USGS, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and USACE.  The theme co-leads are the USGS and USFWS.

Open Water Web
The Open Water Data Initiative will seek to improve the Open Water Web. This diagram summarizes the components of the this web of open water data, processing, and cataloging services.

Current Work

The SSWD is exploring three initial use cases, which help to identify critical data needs, then facilitating and making the needed datasets openly available as Web services and downloads. The initial use cases were chosen to cover important societal needs and to address several diverse facets of the water information infrastructure. The three initial use cases are:

  • Flooding - The National Flood Interoperability Experiment (NFIE) is a joint effort between FEMA, the National Weather Service (NWS), NOAA, USGS, USACE, the academic community, and commercial partners. The goal of NFIE is to demonstrate a transformational suite of science and services for the next generation of national flood hydrology and emergency response.
  • Drought - The OWDI drought use case is aimed at providing an integrated picture of water supply and drought information sources, and emphasizes integration and visualization of information from disparate sources.
  • Spill Response - The goal of the OWDI spill response use case is to identify datasets, tools, and environmental parameters that would enable Web-based predictive modeling of the path and traveltime of contaminants as they travel downstream.


Much progress has been made in the past year. Some of the highlights are:

  • Outstanding engagement and participation in the SSWD, with over 90 people from more than 30 organizations indicating interest, and with half attending the meetings on a regular basis.
  • Special OWDI tracks offered at the American Water Resources Association (AWRA) national conferences in 2014 and 2015.
  • A featured collection of technical papers related to OWDI, hosted by the Journal of the AWRA.
  • Based on user feedback, a “flattened” data model developed using National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHDPlus).
  • The linking of USGS streamgaging stations and NWS forecast points to NHDPlus.
  • Development of OGC and Esri Web services for NHDPlus streamgaging stations.