The National Hydrography Data Set is a rich data model that describes many elements of surface water such as cartographic features, flow direction, elevation, and stream reach characteristics. The power of the NHD is when it is paired with data from stream gauges to forecast flooding, contamination, or habitat health. This vector data set is maintained by the USGS and has many concurrent lives within platforms both professional and academic.
An NHD Primer:
Data can be downloaded from the USGS’s NHD site as shapefiles here:
Alternatively, data can be downloaded from the NHDPlus, which contains enhanced metadata and can be found here: