Custom Watersheds at the Click of a Button: Watershed Delineation in ArcGIS Online

By Steve Kopp, Esri

Watershed Delineation Geoprocessing ToolFor the water resources community, one of the highlights at this year’s Users Conference was the public beta release of the watershed delineation service in ArcGIS Online. This geoprocessing service is now available to everyone with an ArcGIS Online for Organizations account. Whether you are interested in floods, droughts, or water quality, you always need to know what’s upstream. Now, just give it a point and get back a watershed in a few seconds, it’s really that simple. No more downloading DEM tiles to run a collection of Spatial Analyst tools and learning the art of hydroconditioning a DEM all to make a single watershed.

This service is part of a new collection of Ready to Use maps and apps available in ArcGIS Online, and is part of a larger landscape project which curated over 60 natural resources data themes and hundreds of variables from authoritative, best-available sources.

The watershed delineation service is currently available for the continental US and is based upon the NHDPlus version 2 data. The tool can be used in ArcGIS Desktop, ArcGIS Explorer or any web client. To use it in Desktop and Explorer you need to first add a connection to ArcGIS Server  Instructions are found in the watershed delineation service description. For developers, find additional details on the service and how to use it on the developer page for the service.

Watershed Delineation Geoprocessing Tool

For a demonstration of the watershed delineation tool in a Javascript application take a look at the WatershedExplorer application (login using your ArcGIS Online organization account credentials).

Please provide feedback to us by emailing or by posting your concerns on the forum.

In the future, we will release toolboxes and templates to help you build your own Geoprocessing services. We’re continuing to work on new tools, and also adding new areas to the service.

Imagine you could click a point on a map anywhere in the world and delineate the drainage basin in seconds. Then overlay this basin with other data and find out how much rainfall, how many people, or how many square kilometers of forest are upstream of that location, all through a simple web interface. This is where we are headed, and it’s not far away.

This entry was posted in Analysis & Geoprocessing, App Developers, ArcGIS Online, Community Maps, Defense, Developer, Electric & Gas, Hydro, Local Government, Mapping, National Government, Oceans & Maritime, Petroleum, Public Safety, Services, Spatial Statistics, State Government, Water Utilities, Web and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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  1. vinitakulshreshtha says:

    Hello, As I am a Professor in geology, So , I desperately need to learn watershed delineation by this module. THANKS

  2. nicolesutton says:

    Will this be available in New Zealand?

  3. erb1ngha says:

    Once out of beta, will users be able to input their own DEM’s? The tool as currently constructed is fantastic for large watersheds, but for neighborhood-sized areas is unusable. Adding the ability to input user-generated DEM’s would be a great help and attraction for users who deal with more localized drainage.

    • s_kopp says:

      Running watershed delineation against a user-provided elevation model will be possible next year.
      The first phase of the hydrology services project has focused on developing terrain preprocessing workflows and geoprocessing services for medium and small scale data, approximately 30 meter resolution and coarser, then we will work on new workflows for terrain preprocessing of LiDAR data and publishing higher resolution delineation services. Phase I is focused on the continental United States, and small scale global coverage based primarily on the 90 meter SRTM elevation data. We also have a few national datasets in the queue to implement.
      The expansion of these services to other geographies and finer scales will parallel the expansion of the Community Maps program to adding new themes. We will provide tools and templates for users to process their own data as well as the scripts to create geoprocessing services from them if they would like to host it themselves, or to include it in the ArcGIS Online system.

      • ms867 says:

        I was under the impression from this question having come up elsewhere that this tool would not be usable with user-provided elevation data. I would really like to be able to use this tool with LiDAR (1m USGS or 1ft local) data since this tool as others have mentioned is unusable for smaller neighborhood watersheds.

        If the intention is to allow user-provided elevation data to be used with this tool what is the timeline on that since next year has since come and gone?

        • Caitlin Scopel says:

          Thank you for your interest. We will be releasing a toolbox in July 2016 which will produce all of the necessary layers required for watershed delineation and downstream trace. So, you will either run the tools on your own data and set up your own web services, or contribute your higher resolution data to the Community Maps program and your local resolution watershed delineation and trace downstream data would be available via our web services. If you have any more questions, please feel free to contact me directly at

  4. dj_nemo2002 says:

    I’m mapping a long, spread out watershed that is difficult to see with the eye. Thanks for this:)

  5. lkracker says:

    Is it possible to use a 10m DEM layer as the source.

    • Caitlin Scopel says:

      Yes, it is possible. We are currently working on a toolset and documented workflows which will allow you to take your local 10m data, create the necessary data model, and hook up the geoprocessing services. We hope to have this ready to release in the Spring of 2016. Please check back to the Hydro Blog for a release announcement.

      Caitlin Scopel