Hydrological data

Hydrological data


Data describing the state and dynamics of ground and surface water.

Key datasets

  • Location of water sources
  • Flood zones
  • Historical records on flooding
  • Real-time water levels
  • Water quality
  • Water tables
  • Water management


Water is a key resource for agriculture. Too much or too little water is a threat to agriculture and can have disastrous outcomes. The right amount of water is essential for harvest success.

Governments possess many different sources of hydrological information. Sharing this information makes it possible to analyze better the potential for agriculture in different regions of the country. This information is mainly usable for planning purposes at a strategic level by different value-chain actors. Near-real-time information on water fluctuations (groundwater, river discharge) or drought predictions are the only data that may be directly beneficial for operational farm advice.

Expected impact:

Farmer use:

  • Strategic adaptation of farming systems to trends in water availability, e.g. discharge of a river becoming more ephemeral or saline.

Use by other actors:

  • Water availability and changes to the aquatic system determine the agricultural potential of an area. Based on this kind of information:
    • Input suppliers can make better business decisions on what to sell where.
    • Financial service providers can make a better risk assessment for their clients or determine their focus areas.
    • NGOs can plan their projects in relation to the expected water availability, selecting target areas or intervention activities.


The completeness and accuracy of different datasets within a hydrological system varies. Some countries may have only coarse maps indicating the main river systems, other countries may have detailed information systems on their catchments, including hydrological models that predict water flow in relation to the weather, landcover, soil and topography. This data is generally stored in a digital form in a Geographical information System, such as ArcGIS or QGIS. If available the data can easily be made public as open data. There are no sensitivities foreseen for their publication.

Examples of implementation

  • http://www.checkmyfloodrisk.co.uk/ is designed by the UK government to increase awareness among the public of the likelihood of flooding from rivers, the sea or surface water, and to encourage people living and working in these areas to find out more and take appropriate action. The map shows the Environment Agency’s assessment of the likelihood of various types of flooding across England. The information incorporates the presence and effect of all flood defences, predicted flood levels, and ground levels.
  • www.Hypeweb.smhi.se provides open data from the hydrological catchment model HYPE, which simulates water flow and substances on their way from precipitation through soil, river and lakes to the river outlet. Datasets are provided from all over the world.
  • http://floods.unosat.org/ is an open data portal that provides data sets of flooded areas using GIS-based satellite information.

Initiatives that support interoperability

Government in Action 8: Managing the California drought with data visualisations

Estimated reservoir surface area loss using USGS Landsat satellite. Data providers: U.S. Geological Survey and National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Source: https://cida.usgs.gov/ca_drought/

To ensure a safe and sustainable water supply, the California Department of Water Resources announced a water rationing plan, reducing water allocation to farmlands and cutting consumer water usage by 25%. Open data is being used to show how the state allocates its scarce water resources under these conditions. The drought has been visualised by the US Geological Survey (USGS) with publicly accessible open data collected by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) network of research facilities, on long-term physical, chemical, and biological data on agricultural sustainability, climate change, and natural resource conservation at the watershed or landscape scale.

Policy area: Optimizing agricultural practice
Key data category: Hydrological data
Location: North America
Link: https://cida.usgs.gov/ca_drought/