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A 3D Elevation Program LiDAR point cloud showing simulated flooding (in blue) of an area in Denver. (Credit: Jason Stoker, USGS)


Reston, Va. — Flooding is the leading cause of Presidential disaster declarations. On average, the water hazard has resulted in more than 80 fatalities and cost the U.S. nearly $8 billion annually.

Flooding is a significant natural disaster that can impact almost every part of the United States. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has been a lead agency in promoting the critical need for 3D elevation data for water hazard issues such as flood-damage reduction, flood risk management and flood forecasting, among many other uses.

In coordination with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the National Weather Service, the USGS has undertaken an extensive program to use LiDAR-derived data under the 3D Elevation Program (3DEP; https://nationalmap.gov/3DEP) to support:

  • flood-control measures,
  • flood forecasting, and
  • flood insurance.

USGS flood-inundation maps for the Saluda River near Greenville, South Carolina. A LiDAR-derived elevation model was used to aid in hydraulic modeling to create these maps. (Public Domain)

The use of high-quality elevation data, like that collected through 3DEP, are also invaluable in assessing and documenting flood risk and communication, detailing informing to both responders and planners alike. This data also leads to enhanced flood risk products which can result in more informed regulatory and development decisions as well as improved community safety and potential reductions in property losses.

The recently released USGS fact sheet titled, The 3D Elevation Program – Flood Risk Management (https://pubs.er.usgs.gov/publication/fs20173081), provides greater detail of the benefits of enhanced elevation to flood related issues and how to participate in the program.

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