Effective management of the nation's water resources is dependent upon accurate and consistent hydrologic information. Before the emergence of environmental concerns in the 1960's, most hydrologic information was collected by the U.S. Geological Survey and other Federal agencies that used fairly consistent methods and equipment. In the past quarter century, however, increased environmental awareness has resulted in an expansion of hydrologic data collection not only by Federal agencies, but also by state and municipal governments, university investigators, and private consulting firms. The acceptance and use of standard methods of collecting and processing hydrologic data would contribute to cost savings and to greater credibility of flow information vital to responsible assessment and management of the nation's water resources. This paper traces the evolution of the requirements and uses of open-channel flow information in the U.S., and the sequence of efforts to standardize the methods used to obtain this information in the future. The variable nature of naturally flowing rivers results in continually changing hydraulic properties of their channels. Those persons responsible for measurement of water flowing in open channels (streamflow) must use a large amount of judgement in the selection of appropriate equipment and technique to obtain accurate flow information. Standardization of the methods used in the measurement of streamflow is essential to assure consistency of data, but must also allow considerable latitude for individual judgement to meet constantly changing field conditions.