Use of GIS in Determination of the Probable
Maximum Flood at Nuclear Plant Sites
Presented by:
Monica Anderson, GISP
Tennessee Valley Authority
Carrie Stokes, PE, CHMM
Barge Waggoner Sumner & Cannon, Inc.
Presentation Overview
• Requirements for Probable Maximum Flood (PMF)
• Definition of PMF
• TVA River System Overview
• Modeling Needs
• GIS data processing
• GIS-based inputs for model
• Lessons Learned
• Questions
Requirements for PMF Determination
Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) regulations require that
nuclear plants be designed for the Probable Maximum Flood
(PMF) as described in Regulatory Guide 1.59, “Design Basis
Floods for Nuclear Power Plants”.
Probable Maximum Flood (PMF)
The Probable Maximum Flood (PMF) is the flood that may be
expected from the most severe combination of critical
meteorological and hydrologic conditions that are reasonably
possible in a particular drainage area.
Tennessee River System Overview
 The Tennessee River is the fifth largest in the United States in
terms of discharge and seventh largest in North America.
 The drainage area covers 40,910 square miles and lies mostly
in the state of Tennessee with parts in six other statesKentucky, Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia, Alabama, and
 There are over 49 dams on the Tennessee River watershed.
 The river system is operated as a multi-purpose system.
Tennessee River System Overview
Tennessee River System Overview
Summer Pool Elevations
Modeling Needs
Inputs to the PMF model simulations included:
• calibrated reservoir models (geometry files and Manning’s n
• operating guides and initial reservoir levels,
• reservoir storage,
• initial dam rating curves, and
• storm-specific inflow hydrographs developed based on
rainfall, rain/runoff relationship, and basin runoff response.
GIS Data Used
• USGS Digital Elevation Model (DEM) 10M & 30M & hard copy 1:24,000
Topographic Maps
• US Army Corps of Engineers – 500’ Underwater Elevation Points
• Rain/Stream Gage Data from TVA River Operations Hydro Engineers
• Watershed Boundaries were derived from the Hydrologic Units based
on the 12-digit Hydrologic Unit Codes downloaded January 2008.
Watershed boundaries for AL, GA, and VA were downloaded from
NRCS (; for NC, from USDA
(; for TN, from Tennessee Spatial
Data Server (
Additional boundaries were delineated at selected stream gages from
1:24,000 scale USGS topographic maps.
• State of Tennessee Digital Terrain Model (DTM) data
Data Processing Approach
• Convert DEM data to Contour Polygons
• Digitize data from hard copy 1:24,000 Topographic Maps from USGS
• Converted the USACE 500’ underwater elevation points to TIN
– Perfected this process through a number of trial and error attempts.
• HUC delineation in areas of concern with existing sub-basin data
• Antecedent Precipitation Index (API) regions were geo-referenced
and plotted with the watershed basins.
• Reservoir Storage – calculate total surface area of each contour polygon.
• Probable Maximum Precipitation Isohyets used to calculate the
weighted average rainfall for each sub-basin.
Model Input - Watershed Delineation
Model Input – API Regions
Model Input – Channel Geometry
Model Input - Channel Geometry
Model Input – Reservoir Storage
Model Input – Critical Storm Selection
Lessons Learned
• DEM Conversion Inaccuracies – details matter!
– 32-bit floating point option instead of 16-bit integer option
– This change allows ArcGIS Spatial Analyst Contour Tool to create
smoother (interpolated) contour linework.
– US Survey Feet conversion factor 3.28083333333(repeating) should
have been used instead of international feet (3.28084).

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