Geographic Information Systems

Geographic Information Systems (GIS) are invaluable tools for storing, analyzing, and understanding location-based information. Our team offers extensive GIS expertise, including water quality modeling, natural resource management, policy analyses, and environmental research. We offer a full suite of GIS tools to support analyses, planning, monitoring, and decision-making.

Project Spotlight

Chesapeake Bay Brook Trout Assessment: Using Decision Support Tools to Develop Priorities (2015)

This document summarizes an assessment of brook trout habitat for the Chesapeake Bay watershed, including the quantification of likelihood of occurrence, stress and natural quality indices, and vulnerability under projected future climate scenarios. Additionally, a case study is presented on how to potentially utilize these data to direct restoration and⁄or protection activities.

Our services and skills

Environmental and spatial analysis

    • Source Water Protection Plans
    • NEPA Environmental Impact Statements (EISs)/Environmental Assessments (EAs)
    • Conservation studies
    • Site characterizations
    • Viewshed analyses
    • Trend analyses
    • Remediation projects, and
    • Long- and short-term monitoring projects
    • Site selection studies and
    • Alternative analyses based
    • Water quality
    • Total maximum daily load (TMDL) assessments
    • Corridor studies
    • Statistical analyses
    • Geologic and soil studies
    • Agricultural and land-use planning
    • Demographic and socioeconomic studies
    • Marketing

Spatial Analysis of Coal Mining Impacts on Eastern Kentucky Watersheds (2010)


Surface coal mining has historically been and continues to be a prevalent industry in the eastern coalfields of Kentucky. Surface mining methods of coal extraction impact the land, air, water, watersheds, local communities and public health. When overburden is cleared or the surface is impacted in order to extract coal, those impacts to the watershed can be calculated based on area and proximity to certain sensitive features. Using publicly accessible data, this report uses GIS to model, quantify, and report those impacts.

Spatial modeling

  • Habitat assessment
  • Watershed and hydrologic modeling
  • Pollution loading
  • Water quality
  • Water quantity
  • Alternative future scenario
  • Resource vulnerability
  • Networks
  • Predictive modeling
  • Ecological modeling
  • Spatial interpolation
  • 3D model generation

Fish Habitat Modeling


Fishery and aquatic scientists often assess habitats to understand the distribution, status, threats, and relative abundance of aquatic resources. Due to the spatial nature of habitats and associated temporal changes, using traditional analytical methods is often difficult. GIS can be used to effectively collate, archive, display, analyze, and model spatial and temporal data. This spatial data is being used to develop habitat assessment models for the Fish Habitat Partnerships (FHPs) for the Midwestern region of the United States. The model will be utilized to conduct fish habitat condition assessments based on a range of specified metrics or modeling endpoints. The habitat assessment model will also produce the quantitative metrics that will determine the stressors of habitat health at various geographic scales in specific FHP regions. Additionally, a geospatial decision support tool will be developed to give users the ability to understand habitat conditions and stressors (produced by the model) based on the status and severity of threats, at a specified location, at the catchment level.

Data and tool development

  • Custom decision support tool
  • Multi-criteria decision making applications
  • Geodatabase design
  • Utility networks
  • Water quality and data management systems
  • Data interpretation and custom analyses
  • Geoprocessing models
  • CAD conversion
  • Image geo-rectification/geo-referencing
  • Map digitization/vectorization/feature extraction
  • Onsite data collection (GPS)
  • Geodata management
  • Needs assessment
  • Training

Elk Headwaters GIS Watershed Management System


The Elk River headwaters is the premier trout stream in the state and one of the best in the eastern United States. Because of the desire among watershed residents and community leaders to address recent threats, a stakeholder-driven Comprehensive Watershed Plan (CWP) is in process to link future economic development with habitat protection. Many tools and datasets are being developed to assist watershed residents with the implementation of the CWP. Included is a GIS-based watershed management system, which includes two major components: (1) a tool that models proposed development scenarios, and (2) a system for housing data. Together, these components will provide a GIS-enabled database to assist the watershed group and community members with data management, analyses, and reporting and will provide the ability to examine development proposals and the potential subsequent impacts to the watershed.

Custom cartography and web-based mapping

  • Google earth applications
  • Web-based mapping
  • Custom mapping
  • ArcExplorer support
  • Poster design
  • Field map creation
  • Mapbooks

Muddy Creek Comprehensive Watershed Management Plan


A website was developed to assist in the implementation of the watershed plan by providing various resources that will aid in planning, outreach, education, and project tracking. The website is divided into six sections, containing tools and web-based mapping capabilities. Google Earth was utilized to display key data to assist the watershed with implementing the watershed plan by facilitating the development of priorities and projects. In addition, the custom mapping application displays many different datasets to help understand the spatial context of the data and the relationship between the numbers and key issues in the Muddy Creek watershed.


GIS portfolio

Watershed planning and analyses

Elk Headwaters

The Elk Headwaters Watershed Association hired Downstream Strategies to develop a Comprehensive Watershed Plan. Part of this plan entailed GIS mapping and analyses, which examined watershed characteristics, compiled water quality data, identified issues of concern to local stakeholders, and provided recommendations for further analysis and action.

Elk Headwaters Trout

Trout have been found throughout the Elk Headwaters; this map highlights the reachsheds in which brook, brown, or rainbow trout have been found by various sources. Reachsheds in which fish data were compiled are shown as orange. It also shows the location of fish hatcheries, endemic crayfish populations, stocked trout streams, and designated trout streams.

Lower Greenbrier

Downstream Strategies has been working with the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier Watershed Association to develop watershed plans for their subwatersheds. Part of that process entailed using GIS to identify and analyze subwatersheds for these plans.

Watershed Analyses

Downstream Strategies staff performed a GIS analysis to synthesize data from multiple sources and identify priority watersheds for action. The final analysis developed a ranking system to prioritize planning efforts in the subwatersheds of the Lower Greenbrier River.

TMDL Load Reductions

Downstream Strategies has been engaged to develop a Comprehensive Watershed Plan for the Muddy Creek Watershed. We are working with various partners in the region including Friends of the Lower Greenbrier Watershed Association, WVCA–Greenbrier Valley Conservation District, WVDEP, watershed residents, and West Virginia Rivers Coalition. During this initial phase, the team analyzed the TMDL and made preliminary calculations of load reductions and project costs to achieve those reductions.

Comprehensive Watershed Plan Poster

As a component of a Comprehensive Watershed Plan for the Muddy Creek Watershed for the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier Watershed Association, our team developed a full-size poster designed to engage the general public. It makes watershed science approachable by illustrating key concepts in a general rather than technical manner. The poster also makes watershed protection pertinent to the reader by illustrating how and why a healthy watershed benefits all who live there as well as those downstream.

Greenbrier River Watershed Poster

As a company donation, Downstream Strategies created a custom map of the Greenbrier River Watershed. This map will be used as a fundraiser item for the Friends of the Lower Greenbrier watershed organization. Fritz Boettner, Principal of the GIS program, developed the poster and contributed the map as a gift to the organization.

Midwest Fish Habitat Partnership Fish Habitat Modeling Results

Downstream Strategies was contracted by the Midwest Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies through the Sportfish Restoration Program to create a spatially explicit data analysis and modeling system for assessing fish habitat condition across the Midwest based on a range of metrics. The maps here contain predicted results from predictive modeling that utilized available landscape–scale habitat variables to predict fish distributions. Each page zooms to a different watershed to ensure that predictions for each 1:100k scale catchment can be more easily viewed.

Resource analyses

Mine Impacts

GIS was used to determine the spatial intersection between hydrologic features and past or present surface mining activities in the eastern coalfields of Kentucky. This intersection created datasets that were used to calculate the geographic extent of impacts from mining, both in terms of watershed acreage and stream length. In addition, the total acreage of minelands was calculated for each subwatershed to illustrate the cumulative impact of the surface mines.

Coal River Wind

Downstream Strategies developed many maps and figures for the 2008 report The Long-term Economic Benefits of Wind Versus Mountaintop Removal Coal on Coal River Mountain, West Virginia This report examines the long-term local economic benefits and externalities associated with mountaintop removal coal mining and wind turbine construction on Coal River Mountain.

Demographic, socioeconomic, or survey analyses

EITC Recipients

Economic policy analysts are interested in the distribution of taxpayers who receive the earned income tax credit (EITC). A series of maps was created showing EITC rates by zip code for all West Virginia house and senate districts.

CHIP Outreach Priority

Using economic and demographic data such as unemployment, poverty, and free and reduced-price lunch recipients, Downstream Strategies created a model to prioritize Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) outreach efforts in West Virginia counties.

Refund Anticipation Loans

This mapping project is a follow-up to the earned income tax credit (EITC) maps and examines the use of refund anticipation loans (RALs). These short-term, high-interest loans typically target the poor. This map shows rates of EITC recipients who applied for RALs, as well as volunteer income tax assistance (VITA) locations, electronic return originators (EROs), and black population by zip code.


Survey Map

In 2008, Downstream Strategies conducted a study entitled An Economic Benefit Analysis for Abandoned Mine Drainage Remediation in the West Branch Susquehanna River Watershed, Pennsylvania. In order to determine the value of clean water to watershed residents, the study used a detailed survey accompanied by this map. The report describes and quantifies the local and statewide economic benefits stemming from remediation of the West Branch Susquehanna watershed in Pennsylvania.

Bottle Bill Map

Downstream Strategies developed and produced a GIS map plotting the statewide Adopt-a-Highway survey results, creating a powerful visual to promote the Bottle Bill and publicize the survey results.

Upper Monongahela River Water Trail

Downstream Strategies designed and created this map and brochure for the Morgantown Area Chamber of Commerce Monongahela River Recreation and Commerce Committee. The committee's purpose is to encourage development of recreational facilities along the river, increase awareness of the importance of the river as an asset to the community, and promote good stewardship of the waterway.