USGS National Water Census ad hoc Committee Meeting Held this Week

On June 23-24, the USGS National Water Census (NWC) ad hoc Committee met in Washington, DC to share updates and future program directions.  NWC’s goal is to estimate water use and availability for small geographic areas throughout the US using a variety of datasets including:  streamflows, precipitation, evapotranspiration, reservoir storage, groundwater, snow and ice, recharge rates, aquifer levels, ecological needs, water withdrawals, return flows, and consumptive uses – that can be used to calculate a water balance “budget.”
Committee members include representatives from multiple Federal agencies and a variety of national associations and their members (including ASDWA and the New Hampshire Drinking Water Program).  Following are some key meeting highlights that should be of interest to state drinking water programs.

  • The budget for the NWC has been only partially authorized and funded.
  • The USGS is reorganizing and consolidating seven program areas into four to better align resources and funding streams.
  • The USGS will launch the NWC state grant program in FY 2016 that will provide up to $250,000 for water resource agencies in each state to improve their ability to provide basic data at the necessary resolution for effective decision making. The Interstate Council on Water Policy will host three stakeholder meetings on the new grant program from August to October 2015.
  • The USGS is working with other Federal agencies and partners to estimate water use for oil and gas production in the Bakken Shale formation in the Dakotas including on- and off-site use, and consumptive use and variability.
  • Focus Area Studies are wrapping up in the Colorado River Basin, the Delaware River Basin, and the Apalachicola Chattahoochee Flint (ACF) Basin. Three new focus area studies have begun in the Upper Rio Grande Basin, the Red River Basin, and the Coastal Basins of the Carolinas.
  • The USGS flow modeling estimates for ungaged areas of the US are showing a high degree of uncertainty.
  • The USGS is developing a NWC Data Portal to provide national estimates of water budget components for local watersheds, water use data for counties, tools to calculate statistics from daily streamflow records, modeled daily streamflows at ungaged locations, and access to records of aquatic biology observations.

During discussions about the future of the program, participants identified the need for:  more stream flow projections and models in remote areas such as Alaska; an expanded water temperature data set; more data on lakes and reservoirs; better data on groundwater and surface water connections; improvement of the National Hydrography Dataset (NHD); a better understanding and explanation of the uses and limitations of the NWC data (both temporal and spatial); and continued and expanded coordination with other Federal agencies and partners.
For more information about the National Water Census, go to: