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As described in WDFN user blog, we discovered three key user groups which we use to design our delivery of USGS water information. Here is a quick recap of the three user groups:

  • Operationalized Pull: These users pull data from multiple sources, including USGS Application Programming Interface (API) services, to use via custom dashboards and tools optimized for their location and needs. Operationalized Pull users, on average, use the most USGS water information, returning repeatedly for refreshed data to pull into their own systems.

  • Explore & Download: These users find nearby sites, exploring what data they collect. Users make ad-hoc or targeted queries to download, then alter the data as they need in their preferred tool (R, Excel, Python). Explore and Download users usually take their time exploring the data visually (maps, hydrographs, etc.) before finally downloading the data they find useful.

  • Check Status: These users perform routine checks of a few parameters for specific sites, primarily using the hydrographs. Check Status users are our largest user type by number of unique users. Each user generally looks at a handful of sites for the latest water conditions.

This post will discuss what we know about our Operationalized Pull users right now. As we research, we learn more about your needs, identifying patterns that can be used to update our understanding.

Who Are These Users?

Are you an Operationalized Pull user? Anyone can use our APIs to become an Operationalized Pull user. Currently, people from various backgrounds are regular Operationalized Pull users:

  • Other federal, state, and local government agencies who manage or model water resources.

  • Emergency Managers who include USGS water data on their dashboards during emergencies

  • Scientific modelers who include USGS water data as a data source which powers or validates their models

Each user is unique in their data use and workflow. These user stories help us keep you - our user - in mind as we design our services.

Francis, the River Forecaster

Francis (she/her) has worked at the Indianapolis, Indiana National Weather Service River Forecast Office (RFO) for 10 years focusing on mainstem river level forecasting. She has gained the respect of her peers and the public for her clear and accessible writing. Francis has enjoyed writing ever since winning her high school’s short-story contest. Even though University pursuits led her to the earth sciences, she sees river forecasting as her way to continue honing her writing craft. She explains, “USGS water data is an important part of my writing.” The RFO computer system, connected to USGS APIs, provides Francis with the latest basic river data from USGS monitoring locations, such as stream flow (discharge) and gage height. Frances takes the RFO data a step further by also looking at the history of manual field measurements and river data, the station metadata, and any images or videos the USGS provides in her river level forecasting. She says, “These help me imagine floods better, and they help me think of citizens who live near the river and are so connected to it.” The richness of the data Francis obtains from USGS allows her to convey her information in an obtainable and relatable way to her region, including members of the public and other public agencies. Francis says she’d love for all this USGS data to appear in her custom Geographic Information System instead of having to click through USGS websites all the time, and she is glad that APIs are making that more and more possible for someone like herself who is not a software programmer. Francis is excited for the upcoming API webinar series that USGS is hosting - she looks forward to seeing how our modernized APIs can help her workflow even more.

Ted, the Flood Control Officer

Ted (he/him) oversees a Flood Control District for Harris County, Texas, one of the most densely populated and low-lying counties in the United States. His District is responsible for getting the word out quickly when dangerous flooding situations are about to happen. He grew up in Harris County and is something of a local news celebrity there, appearing on local news stations during major storm events. From his 52 years in Harris County, he knows from experience that land-use change, land subsidence, and climate change are making floods more frequent and severe. Ted recently reflected on how much NWIS Web has helped his District succeed: “When I started here in 1997, we had maybe a dozen river monitors that literally broadcast an alarm sound in Morse Code on a shortwave radio system when the sensor was submerged under water. The system was constantly breaking. Heck, sometimes we just had to drive to the river and look at it.” Since 2003 his district has partnered with USGS to monitor these rivers. The partnership helps get the live data directly into their data acquisition system from the USGS website. This provides real-time notifications of flooding conditions making Ted more confident in his job because he feels he has the latest information. He is not worried about missing important notifications because the two systems work seamlessly together.

Maria, the Scientific Modeler

Maria (she/her) recently joined the faculty of her University’s earth sciences department. Maria has a Master’s in chemistry and a PhD in zoology. Her research interests include coastal change and human impacts in wetland and coastal ecosystems. Maria is starting an ambitious applied research program studying the Gulf of Mexico hypoxia zone—an area of the ocean that loses its dissolved oxygen each summer, damaging the aquatic life there and impacting the livelihoods of millions of Americans. Her model will require many types of data inputs, including water quantity and quality information from upstream watersheds. She intends to develop a state-of-the-art computer model that uses the supercomputing power of the cloud (maybe even quantum computing). Maria and her team will access USGS water quality information, such as nutrient concentrations and temperature measurements, and quantity information, such as streamflow, through Water Quality Portal’s Web Services and USGS’s Water Services. Maria can then easily incorporate the data into her model, in part because USGS uses data standards from Open Geospatial Consortium, which helps standardize the many sources of data. Maria’s research should provide real, practical answers about the future of the hypoxic zone in the Gulf of Mexico and how humans' actions hundreds of miles away impact the watershed and offshore areas. She and her burgeoning research team have many tough problems ahead, but she is “grateful that getting USGS water data into the model will not be one of the problems.”

Each user story does not represent a real person. The stories reflect real user experiences and are based on our decades-long experience with our users.

How Do Operationalized Pull Users Interact with USGS Water Information?

We know you want to easily look at USGS data alongside other sources of data, including state and local water information. When users interact with our water data, they are utilizing APIs such as USGS Water Services and dataRetrieval to pull the data repeatedly into their own data ecosystem. For these users, our data becomes one part in a rich set of data to power custom dashboards, visualizations, and data stores based on their organizational mission.

Operationalized Pull users pull more data from USGS than any other user type, though each user’s needs are unique. Some of our users will be very locally focused on a single hydrologic unit of data, while others will pull water data nationwide to serve their needs. The key distinction between Operationalized Pull and Explore and Download users is that Operationalized Pull users use scripts or software to repeatedly access USGS API services which refresh their data sources as new data comes in.

“Right now, on one dev system, I’m using [existing state] software but pulling from all 50 states + territories, sequential, every 5 minutes.” - a federal partner

Data Visualizations, statistics, and other types of contextualization of the data provided by USGS is rarely used by Operationalized Pull users. As USGS data is just a single part of a larger ecosystem of data, these users generally are looking at the data in their own tools to customize their own experience. Here at the USGS, we consider this to be data interpretation that occurs “post-processing,” as in, after the data is exported from USGS software and tools. We are pleased to know that our data is valued as a primary data source for so many users.

“I’m not so much interested in going to USGS web pages to look at what’s going on - I want to pull it into my mapping system so I can use USGS data.” - an emergency manager

Key USGS Products

Operationalized Pull users are primarily accessing our API services. Key USGS products used by these users include:


Connect with us! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We are learning more about Operationalized Pull users as we continue our work improving the developer experience with accessing USGS water data. If you want to share your own workflow and feedback on the process, email, or if you’d be interested in participating in our user research process, please email

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Quotes in this blog post have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity only.