Watershed Delineation Using HEC-HMS GIS Tools (Part 1 of 3)

Watershed Delineation Using HEC-HMS GIS Tools (Part 1 of 3)

Some recently released HEC-HMS versions around 2020 have GIS tools to delineate a watershed using Terrain Data (a DEM). Unlike HEC-GeoHMS, these standalone GIS tools are and integral part of HEC-HMS software and therefore ArcGIS software is not required to perform a lot of hydrology spatial analysis. The newest HEC-HMS Version 4.7 (as of January 8, 2021) also has the capability to estimate hydrology parameters for watersheds delineated. This post is Part 1 of 3 to demonstrate new HEC-HMS watershed delineation and basin setup functions. A second post as Part 2 of 3 is to show HEC-HMS capability to merge/split subbasins (watersheds) and reaches (streams). Finally another post as Part 3 of 3 is to demonstrate HEC-HMS hydrology parameter estimate capability.

This demonstration is for Bear Creek watershed, located at about 9 miles west of Johnsonburg, PA (Figure 1). DEM is downloaded from USGS (https://viewer.nationalmap.gov/basic/#/) and a step by step instruction of downloading USGS DEM can be found in this post. Previously, the watershed has been delineated using TauDEM Plugin in QGIS (refer to this post) and here we are going to use HEC-HMS V4.7 GIS tool to delineate it. The two delineated watersheds will be compared at the end of this post.

Figure 1

The files used for this demonstration can be downloaded by clicking this link which includes the HEC-HMS project file, re-projected DEM file Bear Creek EPSG26917 ft.tif, outlet shapefile outlet BC_final.shp and the delineated watershed shapefile BC watershed.shp which are products of watershed delineation using TauDEM Plugin in QGIS. The outlet shapefile outlet BC_final.shp from TauDEM Plugin in QGIS can be used here to help identify outlet location.

The following is a step by step instruction of using HEC-HMS GIS tools to delineate watersheds and setup basins.

  1. Create a new HEC-HMS project file with the name of Bear_Creek_HMS47.
  2. Click top menu of Components, then Terrain Data Manager to add a new terrain data (DEM). In this example, a new terrain data named Bear Creek DEM is created by adding the re-projected DEM file of Bear Creek EPSG26917 ft.tif. The terrain data file used here should be in reference to a projected coordinate system (example: UTM zones, State Plane Coordinate System).
  3. Click top menu of Components, then Basin Model Manager to add a new basin model. In this example, a new basin model named Bear Creek is created through this step. Click the basin model of Bear Creek and in its editor window, select Bear Creek DEM as its Terrain Data (Figure 2). Because so far a GIS Coordinate System has not been defined in HEC-HMS, when you select Bear Creek DEM for Bear Creek basin model, a warning message will pop up asking you how to set up the coordinate system for the basin model (Figure 3), in this case, select “skip” so the coordinate system of Bear Creek DEM (actually it is from Bear Creek EPSG26917 ft.tif) will be used for the basin model.
Figure 2
Figure 3

3A. Optional step – Terrain Reconditioning: starting from HEC-HMS V4.8, a tool for terrain reconditioning is added onto GIS menu (Figure 3A). This is an optional step and you can skip it and go to Step 4 – Preprocess Sinks directly if your terrain does not need to be reconditioned. For the detailed reconditioning instruction, refer to the HEC-HMS manual.

Figure 3A
  1. Click top menu of GIS, then Preprocess Sinks to fill sinks of the terrain data to generate a hydraulically connected DEM which is superimposed on top of existing terrain data (Figure 4).
Figure 4
  1. Click top menu of GIS, then Preprocess Drainage to create two new files, Flow Direction and Flow Accumulation (Figure 5).
Figure 5
  1. Click top menu of GIS, then Identify Streams to create stream networks. A window will pop up asking you to specify a threshold for stream delineation, which is the minimum drainage area for HEC-HMS to identify a stream. A smaller value will create more subbasins and streams (reaches). For a new project, an appropriate threshold value may be determined by trial & error. For this tutorial, enter 2 square miles as the threshold value. This step creates a new Identified Streams file (Figure 6). On Figure 6, the green color on stream network means upstream end of a stream and red/purple color means downstream end of a stream.
Figure 6
  1. Now in order to delineate a watershed, you will need to specify an outlet point location (Break Point, point of analysis) and this point needs to be right on top of the pixels of the streams identified at Step 6. If you already have this point defined in a shapefile, you can import it directly by opening Break Points Manager (Figure 7A), or you will need to add it manually: zoom in to the streams to add the outlet point exactly. The tool of adding outlet point is called Break Point Creation Tool at the menu icon panel on the top (Figure 7B).
Figure 7A
Figure 7B
  1. To aid adding the break point manually, you can add the final outlet point shapefile outlet BC_final.shp as a reference. To do so, click top menu of View, then Map Layers…, and then Add… (Figure 8). You can add any other shapefile or raster file under Map Layers… window, as long as these files have the same coordinate system as terrain data or basin model. You can also turn on or turn off any other layers/files under Map Layers… window to make the basin map view window clean and fitting your needs.
Figure 8
  1. Click top menu of GIS, then Delineate Elements to create subbasins and reaches for HEC-HMS basin model. A Delineate Elements Options dialog will open with options for setting prefixes for the element names. Choose “Subbasin_” for subbasin elements, “Reach_” for reach elements, and “J_” for junction elements (make sure the Insert Junctions option is set to Yes). Finally, set the Convert Break Points option to Yes. This option will automatically assign computation points to the break points. Click the Delineate button. Subbasins, reaches, and junctions will be generated and automatically assigned names (Figure 9). Five subbasins and two reaches are delineated in this example (Subbasin_1 to Subbasin_5 and R_1 to R_2, while Subbasin_5 is a very small subbasin near the outlet point, not easy to find on Figure 9).
Figure 9

After the subbasins and reaches are delineated at Step 9, click top menu of Parameters, then Characteristics —> Subbasin and Reach to calculate subbasin and reach characteristics parameters such as subbasin longest flowpath length, longest flowpath slope, and reach sinuosity. Make sure the filter set as “None” to calculate and display all subbasins and reaches.

Finally, to compare the watershed (or subbasins) delineated by HEC-HMS and that by TauDEM Plugin in QGIS, the TauDEM watershed shapefile (BC watershed.shp) is added onto the project by clicking top menu of View, then Map Layers…, and then Add…(purple color cross hatching area on Figure 10). As shown on Figure 10, the two methods delineated nearly identical watersheds at the same outlet location.

Figure 10

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