From The Editor | February 7, 2019

Report: Invest In Tracking Systems And Address Data Privacy Concerns

By Joe Cogliano

California should invest in modern water-use tracking systems and address privacy concerns as part of a larger data-focused initiative to get a better grip on its constrained water resources, according to a report that could have repercussions beyond the state.

These recommendations were recently outlined by the Water Education Foundation in Catch the Data Wave: Improving Water Management Through Data, which builds on current efforts to meet California’s Open and Transparent Water Data Act. Because of California’s size and the scope of its water problems, successfully implementing the recommendations in the report may provide a model for other regions grappling with sustainability issues.

In addition to modernizing statewide water-use tracking systems and developing privacy protocols using existing legal standards, the most notable proposals in the Water Education Foundation report include:

  • Standardizing and expanding California’s stream gauge data collection and distribution to improve the quantity and quality of water supply data;
  • Improving the collection, analysis, distribution, and integration of data at the watershed level to maximize the return on investment of water projects and programs that rely on both specific and general datasets;
  • Identifying and resolving gaps in key data sets relevant to water transfers and integrate those data sets according to the transfer demands of the watershed;
  • Supporting, encouraging, and incentivizing the collection, analysis, and summary of data related to less-understood impacts and benefits of water transfers; and
  • Investigating the automation of irrigation canal measurements.

The Water Education Foundation report also suggests addressing privacy issues — to individuals as well as businesses, which may face concerns over loss in competitive advantage — that pose a threat to creating a broad-scale, open-data framework. To accomplish this, it recommends the water sector explicitly incorporate existing legal standards for the dissemination and protection of personal information to provide more certainty and guidance in situations where privacy concerns arise.

In crafting the report, the 2018 Water Leaders Class of the Water Education Foundation analyzed current research as well as efforts underway to implement the Open and Transparent Water Data Act. That law directs several agencies to work together to create a statewide platform for sharing water data and requires them to develop a variety of data-related protocols. However, the report contends statewide aggregation and integration of diverse datasets and other requirements of the law alone may not be enough to optimize water resources management.

“At the individual user level, water issues become relevant to people when they have a connection to the data,” the report says. “Therefore, the water sector should support policies and programs with the goal of making actionable data available to various end-users to increase engagement while simultaneously helping to guide the most relevant water use and management decisions.”

A variety of details could be better understood through improved data, including reservoir fill criteria, surface water depletion caused by groundwater use, evapotranspiration of applied water rates applicable to specific crops and watering practices, and the benefits of conservation practices.

“The time is now for water users at all levels, environmental advocates, regulatory agencies and all other stakeholders to come together to address the challenges data presents in California water management,” the report says.

Click here to read the full report.