The United States and Canada independently developed their own suite of hydrographic datasets using different standards and approaches. Containing mapped rivers, lakes, and watershed boundaries, these national datasets stopped at the international border and often did not line up, leaving an area of uncertainty about how the water behaved. This lack of data continuity proved to be a challenge for managers, planners, and scientists using this data. These environmental systems do not know political boundaries, and a proper understanding of them is vital to assess issues like ecosystem health, flood and drought risk, as well as water resource management.
Realizing the challenges of inconsistent data and the potential advantages gained by a better alignment of geospatial hydrographic datasets along the international border, the International Joint Commission (IJC) convened the Transboundary Hydrographic Data Harmonization Task Force (DHTF) in 2008. This project was designated as a strategic priority for the IJC under the International Watersheds Initiative (IWI), a 21st century initiative that recognizes that environmental systems function as whole entities and should be managed as such, rather than being bound by traditional political boundaries. Harmonized data is vital to the success of the initiative’s watershed-based and local participatory approach.