Sharing Water Quality Data

The Colorado Data Sharing Network is a statewide database that currently encompasses 70 watershed groups, small utilities, and others who regularly, and mostly voluntarily, collect water quality and chemistry data from local stream reaches. After 15 years, the network includes 3.3 million water quality results from 11,000 monitoring stations across Colorado, with data and providers growing exponentially in recent years. Statistical tools for datasets, Google Mapper, and geographic information systems (GIS) maps and layers allow users to access and manipulate water quality data from the network with other land-use, streamflow and environmental data from the Colorado Water Quality Control Division, the U.S. Geological Survey, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

All of that additional information allows managers to tell a more rounded story with water quality data, says Casey Davenhill, director of the Colorado Watershed Assembly. “The value of the Data Sharing Network is the history and the data that has been collected, and the support of the Colorado Water Quality Monitoring Council,” which oversees the network and provides training and resources, says Davenhill, whose organization co-hosts the council. Through an agreement with the Water Quality Control Division, groups that submit records to the Data Sharing Network can also meet state [reporting] requirements without having to re-share or reformat those records.

Network partners have also become versed in the challenges of data governance. In some cases, state and federal databases may not be compatible with each other, making it difficult to compile or synthesize records, marking another issue the Colorado Government Data Advisory Board tackles.

Davenhill says the network is now seeking partners that could develop applications using the massive records catalog and that might even offer the capacity to expand or host the program. For instance, Colorado State University’s One Water Solutions Institute has developed a GIS-based Watershed Rapid Assessment Program. Known as WRAP, the tool enables stormwater managers and others to evaluate and forecast river system conditions and the impacts of land-use changes on water quality and quantity. The Data Sharing Network’s records can be a valuable information layer within the application, and the organizations recently collaborated on a webinar. “That’s the type of alliance we see as being really useful to us,” says Davenhill.