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Updating flood maps efficiently using existing hydraulic models, very-high-accuracy elevation data, and a geographic information system: A pilot study on the Nisqually River, Washington

October 1, 2001

A method of updating flood inundation maps at a fraction of the expense of using traditional methods was piloted in Washington State as part of the U.S. Geological Survey Urban Geologic and Hydrologic Hazards Initiative. Large savings in expense may be achieved by building upon previous Flood Insurance Studies and automating the process of flood delineation with a Geographic Information System (GIS); increases in accuracy and detail result from the use of very-high-accuracy elevation data and automated delineation; and the resulting digital data sets contain valuable ancillary information such as flood depth, as well as greatly facilitating map storage and utility. The method consists of creating stage-discharge relations from the archived output of the existing hydraulic model, using these relations to create updated flood stages for recalculated flood discharges, and using a GIS to automate the map generation process. Many of the effective flood maps were created in the late 1970?s and early 1980?s, and suffer from a number of well recognized deficiencies such as out-of-date or inaccurate estimates of discharges for selected recurrence intervals, changes in basin characteristics, and relatively low quality elevation data used for flood delineation. FEMA estimates that 45 percent of effective maps are over 10 years old (FEMA, 1997). Consequently, Congress has mandated the updating and periodic review of existing maps, which have cost the Nation almost 3 billion (1997) dollars. The need to update maps and the cost of doing so were the primary motivations for piloting a more cost-effective and efficient updating method. New technologies such as Geographic Information Systems and LIDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) elevation mapping are key to improving the efficiency of flood map updating, but they also improve the accuracy, detail, and usefulness of the resulting digital flood maps. GISs produce digital maps without manual estimation of inundated areas between cross sections, and can generate working maps across a broad range of scales, for any selected area, and overlayed with easily updated cultural features. Local governments are aggressively collecting very-high-accuracy elevation data for numerous reasons; this not only lowers the cost and increases accuracy of flood maps, but also inherently boosts the level of community involvement in the mapping process. These elevation data are also ideal for hydraulic modeling, should an existing model be judged inadequate.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2001
Title Updating flood maps efficiently using existing hydraulic models, very-high-accuracy elevation data, and a geographic information system: A pilot study on the Nisqually River, Washington
DOI 10.3133/wri014051
Authors Joseph L. Jones, Tana Haluska, David L. Kresch
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 2001-4051
Index ID wri014051
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization

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