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Statewide Hydrography GIS Program

Michigan DNR Ausable River
Department of Technology, Management and Budget

Statewide Hydrography GIS Program


Today, Michigan has a statewide geographic information systems (GIS) hydrography layer depicting rivers, lakes and streams that was digitized at 1:24,000 scale during the early the 2000s from USGS topographic quadrangles.   At 1:24,000 scale, the location accuracy of features can be off as much as 40 feet.  The Department of Technology, Management and Budget’s (DTMB) Geospatial Services team is coordinating an effort to improve the GIS hydrography data on a statewide basis.  In 2019, DTMB formed a focus group to explore the needs and activities for a GIS hydrography data improvement project.  This group of stakeholders from state agencies engaged with the United States Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Hydrography Dataset (NHD) team to review the pathway to improving the State’s data and while integrating with the NHD.  The first step was to complete a pilot project to repositing hydrography data using the USGS proposed elevation-derived hydrography process and specifications. 

For repositioning hydrography data, a pilot project was conducted and leveraged Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) data that have been collected through aerial acquisition projects over the past four years and is at a Quality Level 2 (QL2).  QL2 level means it can provide an accuracy of between 2 to 5 feet and with elevations on the order of 4 to 6 inches.   LiDAR provided the elevation data needed to detect water channels and flow directions resulting in more accurate positioning of river, lake, and stream systems and more complete coverage of water features by adding the capability to map many more stream networks. 

In 2021, Michigan State University and NV5 Geospatial were hired to begin a statewide project to generate improved hydrography flow lines, water bodies, water area features and then conflate the NHD attributes to those new features.   This is expected to be a four-year project and will be completed on a region-by-region approach during that time.  To help with the development of new and more accurate hydrography features, the availability of additional source data from stakeholders across the state will be an important factor to the project.  More outreach activities will occur throughout the project to stakeholders in each region about additional data such as culverts, drain, existing hydrography data and other data in GIS format. 

Michigan State University is conducting an initial survey to determine what additional source information might exists.  The survey can be found here or by scanning the QR code below with your smartphone:  

QR Code Hydrography Survey

Project Benefits

As the Great Lakes State and a state with over 11,000 inland lakes, having a robust hydrography data layer is critical for business systems that need to leverage the location-based aspects of GIS hydrography datasets.  These GIS datasets are a key component to perform predictive analysis critical to managing water resources and providing safe fresh water to citizens of our state.  Mapped information on rivers, lakes and streams is a must for any watershed management activity and having these accurate GIS datasets allows for huge amounts of additional data about lakes and river systems to be linked to specific locations along the water system.  This results in the ability to conduct analysis and display quickly and accurately the relationships between the state’s water resources and potential impacts to the water systems. 

Examples of the vast amounts of additional data and analysis that is dependent on an accurate and well-maintained hydrography dataset include, but are not limited to, data for invasive species, habitat management and modeling, land and forestry management, wetland mitigation, nutrient loading, endangered species, and fish stocking.  Hydrography data is also key for emergency management scenarios such as flood management and response, wildfire protection, and spill response.  Critical infrastructure and assets such as dams, culverts, bridges, roads, trails, rail benefit from more accurate hydrography data for better predictive flow modeling to assess impacts to infrastructure based on changes in flow volumes and water levels.  Hydrography data is also important for tourism to map out the navigable waterways and water trails, charter fishing programs, and recreational activities. Enhanced hydrography data is also critical for water management and associated programs such as watershed management, soil erosion, coastal waters management, pollution discharge management, wastewater management, agriculture nutrient run-off, wellhead protection.

For more information about the project please contact Mark Holmes, Geospatial Services Manager,  For questions specific to outreach and additional source data please contact Robert Goodwin at Michigan State University at