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The U.S. Geological Survey Peak-Flow File Data Verification Project, 2008–16

November 21, 2017

Annual peak streamflow (peak flow) at a streamgage is defined as the maximum instantaneous flow in a water year. A water year begins on October 1 and continues through September 30 of the following year; for example, water year 2015 extends from October 1, 2014, through September 30, 2015. The accuracy, characterization, and completeness of the peak streamflow data are critical in determining flood-frequency estimates that are used daily to design water and transportation infrastructure, delineate flood-plain boundaries, and regulate development and utilization of lands throughout the United States and are essential to understanding the implications of climate and land-use change on flooding and high-flow conditions.

As of November 14, 2016, peak-flow data existed for 27,240 unique streamgages in the United States and its territories. The data, collectively referred to as the “peak-flow file,” are available as part of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) public web interface, the National Water Information System, at Although the data have been routinely subjected to periodic review by the USGS Office of Surface Water and screening at the USGS Water Science Center level, these data were not reviewed in a national, systematic manner until 2008 when automated scripts were developed and applied to detect potential errors in peak-flow values and their associated dates, gage heights, and peak-flow qualification codes, as well as qualification codes associated with the gage heights. USGS scientists and hydrographers studied the resulting output, accessed basic records and field notes, and corrected observed errors or, more commonly, confirmed existing data as correct.

This report summarizes the changes in peak-flow file data at a national level, illustrates their nature and causation, and identifies the streamgages affected by these changes. Specifically, the peak-flow data were compared for streamgages with peak flow measured as of November 19, 2008 (before the automated scripts were widely applied) and on November 14, 2016 (after several rounds of corrections). There were 659,332 peak-flow values in the 2008 dataset and 731,965 peak-flow values in the 2016 dataset. When compared to the 2016 dataset, 5,179 (0.79 percent) peak-flow values had changed; 36,506 (5.54 percent) of the peak-flow qualification codes had changed; 1,938 (0.29 percent) peak-flow dates had changed; 18,599 (2.82 percent) of the peak-flow gage heights had changed; and 20,683 (3.14 percent) of the gage-height qualification codes had changed—most as a direct result of the peak-flow file data verification effort led by USGS personnel. The various types of changes are summarized and mapped in this report. In addition to this report, a corresponding USGS data release is provided to identify changes in peak flows at individual streamgages. The data release and the procedures to access the data release are described in this report.

Publication Year 2017
Title The U.S. Geological Survey Peak-Flow File Data Verification Project, 2008–16
DOI 10.3133/sir20175119
Authors Karen R. Ryberg, Burl B. Goree, Tara Williams-Sether, Robert R. Mason,
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2017-5119
Index ID sir20175119
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization Office of Surface Water