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North Dakota Water Science Center

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Glossary of Water Related Terms

Cubic feet per second (cfs, ft3/s) is the rate of flow representing a volume of 1 cubic foot passing a given point in 1 second. It is equivalent to approximately 7.48 gallons per second, 448.8 gallons per minute, or 0.02832 cubic meters per second.

Datum is an elevation above mean sea level to which all gage height readings are referenced.

Discharge, or flow, is the volume of water that passes a given point in a given period of time.

Drainage area of a site on a stream is that area, measured in a horizontal plane, that has a common outlet at the site for its surface runoff.

Drainage basin is a part of the Earth's surface that is occupied by a drainage system with a common outlet for its surface runoff (see " Drainage area").

Flow (see "Discharge").

Gage datum is the elevation of the zero point of the reference gage from which gage height is determined as compared to sea level (see " Datum"). This elevation is established by a system of levels from known benchmarks, by approximation from topographic maps, or by geographical positioning system.

Gage height (G.H.) is the water-surface elevation referenced to the gage datum. Gage height often is used interchangeably with the more general term "stage," although gage height is more appropriate when used with a reading on a gage.

Gaging station is a site on a stream, canal, lake, or reservoir where systematic observations of stage, discharge, or other hydrologic data are obtained. When used in connection with a discharge record, the term is applied only to those gaging stations where a continuous record of discharge is computed.

Stage: See "Gage height."

Stage-discharge relation is the relation between the water-surface elevation, termed stage (gage height), and the volume of water flowing in a channel per unit time.

Streamflow is the discharge that occurs in a natural channel. Although the term "discharge" can be applied to the flow of a canal, the word "streamflow" uniquely describes the discharge in a surface stream course. The term "streamflow" is more general than " runoff" as streamflow may be applied to discharge whether or not it is affected by diversion or regulation.

Water level is the water-surface elevation or stage of the free surface of a body of water above or below any datum (see "Gage height"), or the surface of water standing in a well, usually indicative of the position of the water table or other potentiometric surface.

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