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Identifying and preserving high-water mark data

March 8, 2016

High-water marks provide valuable data for understanding recent and historical flood events. The proper collection and recording of high-water mark data from perishable and preserved evidence informs flood assessments, research, and water resource management. Given the high cost of flooding in developed areas, experienced hydrographers, using the best available techniques, can contribute high-quality data toward efforts such as public education of flood risk, flood inundation mapping, flood frequency computations, indirect streamflow measurement, and hazard assessments.

This manual presents guidance for skilled high-water mark identification, including marks left behind in natural and man-made environments by tranquil and rapid flowing water. This manual also presents pitfalls and challenges associated with various types of flood evidence that help hydrographers identify the best high-water marks and assess the uncertainty associated with a given mark. Proficient high-water mark data collection contributes to better understanding of the flooding process and reduces risk through greater ability to estimate flood probability.

The U.S. Geological Survey, operating the Nation’s premier water data collection network, encourages readers of this manual to familiarize themselves with the art and science of high-water mark collection. The U.S. Geological survey maintains a national database at http://water.usgs.gov/floods/FEV/ that includes high-water mark information for many flood events, and local U.S. Geological Survey Water Science Centers can provide information to interested readers about participation in data collection and flood documentation efforts as volunteers or observers.