AWRA Water Blog

September 2015 President’s Message

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John C. Tracy, AWRA President

September 2015 President’s Column, Water Resources IMPACT

Lately, I have been thinking quite a bit about the measurement and use of water resources data, and the need to develop, maintain, and make accessible water data sets that can aid in managing a wide range of hydroservices. I believe this can be summed up in a quote that I am probably butchering, and I do not know who to attribute it to, but I believe it goes something like “You only value what you measure.” There are many interpretations related to this quote, or quotes like this, such as the article by Dan Ariely in the Harvard Business Review entitled “You are what you measure” (June 2010, p. 38). The basic premise of the article is that developing a particular metric, or measure, of the performance of a company will drive the behavior of that company. What this quote, and its many interpretations point out, is that to effectively manage any process, system, entity, or function requires access to reliable information in a timely fashion that is directly related to its objectives. It is clear that the idea of the development of performance metrics, and the underlying need for robust data collection efforts, is taking an ever important place in our society. This includes developing data collection processes and attempting to create metrics to assess the performance, and guide the policies related to, educational programs, a wide variety of governmental functions, and even to manage professional sports (think Money Ball). Thus, it should be no surprise that to effectively plan and manage any water resources system requires a robust data collection and management effort.

Over the last several decades there has been quite a bit of discussion and research regarding how data can be used to better manage water resource and environmental systems. In the early to mid-2000s there was an entirely new field of study developed, referred to as Adaptive Management, that at its heart relied on data collection and analysis to help guide future management decisions and activities. One of the core philosophies of Adaptive Management was realizing that for as much as we know right now, by continual measurement and assessment we will become smarter in the future, and we need to be able to modify management systems to benefit from this increase in information and knowledge. The ideas behind Adaptive Management, and its practice, were the subject of two AWRA Specialty Conferences, the first held in Missoula, Montana, in June 2006, and the second held in Snowbird, Utah, in June 2009, and two issues of IMPACT. At the heart of all of the discussions related to developing Adaptive Management strategies was the assumption that we would have access to reliable data in a timely fashion in order to make effective management decisions. These conferences, and most early discussions of Adaptive Management, focused on how to use data to aid in modifying management plans and restoration activities, rather than focusing on how to effectively collect, archive, integrate, and make accessible water resources data sets. Thus, it was soon discovered that the use of Adaptive Management strategies was severely limited by the availability of data sets that could effectively inform water resource management activities.

In many respects, the problem was not that water resource data was not collected, but rather this data was not readily available for use in aiding a wide range of water resource management decisions in a timely manner. This need was recently recognized, and has resulted in creating the Open Water Data Initiative (OWDI), which is an initiative of the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI), under the USGS Water Information Coordination Program (WICP). The ACWI is comprised of over 24 federal, state, local, regional, academic, industry, and professional associations whose “Purpose is to improve water information for decision making about natural resources management and environmental protection.” A complete description of the OWDI can be found at Briefly though, the OWDI is attempting to improve the access to, and the value of, water data by creating a national framework that integrates existing data sources and archiving systems with tools that enhance the sharing of water data, allows for water data enrichment, and facilitates the development of solutions to better manage water and environmental systems. A key element of the OWDI is the improvement of the Open Water Web, organizing it as four primary functions: being a Water Data Catalog, Developing Water Data as a Service, Provide Water Data Enrichment Tools (e.g. coupling of data with models), and Creating a Water Data and Tools Market Place.

The AWRA was honored to have the first public discussions of the OWDI at our annual conference in Tysons Corner, Virginia, in November 2014, with Dr. David Maidment providing an overview of the OWDI, and organizing several sessions to discuss the OWDI and gather information to help guide its progression. This year¹s annual conference in Denver ( Denver2015/) will again feature two sessions addressing the OWDI, with these sessions being designed to both present advances in the initiative, and provide forums to further discuss the OWDI and allow all to become involved in guiding this effort. These sessions should be of interest to a wide range of attendees, and I would encourage you to show up early, as last year¹s sessions were standing room only.

I look forward to seeing you at the annual conference in Denver, and please come join the conversation on the OWDI.

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