Open Data – For Water, Why Does it Matter?

Posted in: Energy, Water


Hand using tablet with centralized cloud computing system conceptOur nation’s water infrastructure is currently in a state of flux. Shifting demographics, aging infrastructure and climate change all contribute to present challenges. Compounding this, over 26 Federal agencies and multiple state and local agencies currently produce and maintain information on water. The result is a fragmented information system.

This is a problem for water resource projects, which often require the collection of water-related geospatial data. Within the current system, this means accessing and downloading data from multiple federal agencies and state or local providers. While the development of streaming data services has made accessing individual data sets easier for viewing and querying in a GIS environment, these services often do not support data download, geospatial analysis or modeling functions.

Open Water Data Initiative

The Open Water Data Initiative (OWDI) seeks to mitigate these obstacles for water resource projects. The initiative was launched in the summer of 2014 by the Federal Geographic Data Committee (FGDC) and the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI).

The OWDI rests on the principal of open data, as applied to geospatial data. Open data is essentially data that can be used, reused and redistributed by anyone. This means more than publishing information for free access—open data also provides a mechanism for participants to contribute back as equal partners in data collection and review.

What’s the Impact?

The initiative moves to integrate our fragmented information system to create a connected framework that enables innovation, efficiencies, modeling and data sharing. Examples are being developed that examine flooding, drought and spill response. These initial use cases will examine facets of data sharing and services, integration, data visualization, predictive modeling and tool development.

Progress over the last year shows enhancements to the National Hydrography Dataset Plus (NHDPlus), linking of USGS stream gaging stations and NWS forecast points to NHDPlus and the development of streaming web services for NHDPlus stream gaging stations.

These are exciting steps along a path to a more integrated water information system. This initiative means more accurate, accessible, up-to-date, and complete data, leading to better project outcomes for future water resource projects.

Furthermore, improving access to data and enabling open exchange of water information is important for full understanding of these complex issues. Open and accessible data is imperative to create long-term, sustainable water infrastructure solutions in the United States.


Brauna Hartzell, GISP

About the Author

Brauna Hartzell, GISP, has more than 25 years of experience in applying Geographic Information Systems technology to water resources projects of all types. Collaborating with professionals from multiple disciplines, she solves complex spatial problems through scripting and spatial analysis to deliver the tools, data, and results for project-specific needs. This invaluable expertise assists clients to explore new ways to look at data and information analysis to support the decision-making process.

Read more posts by Brauna Hartzell, GISP

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