Creating An Internet of Water Database Would Help Manage Water Sustainably

(3BL/JustMeans) Water is a precious resource, as the five years of extreme drought Californians have just lived through teach us. The lesson learned is how the private and public sector manage water can help take stress off of watersheds. To better manage water, open and shared data is necessary.

Presently, the value of water data has not been widely documented, communicated or quantified. An internet of water (IOW) would make water data effectively integrated. And making public water data open and digitally accessible is a necessary step in using water data for sustainability. Those are the main findings from a series on water data the Aspen Institute Dialogue Series recently hosted between May 2016 and February 2017.

Out of the meetings came a report on how to design and launch an “internet of water” database that connects data producers, hubs and users. Such a database would allow water-related data and information to be connected and transmitted in real time. The report recommends three actions. The first one is to create an IOW. To do so, a vision for sustainable water resource management needs to be stated, and stewardship needs to be enabled through open, shared and integrated public water data.

Investment needs to be made in quantitative studies of the value of open water data which include cost savings and the impact of more sustainably managed water systems. This gives governments, the private sector, foundations and academia the opportunity to both invest and participate in quantifying the benefits of open water data. After investment is made in studies, an IOW needs to be initiated, the report recommends, through regional pilots that solve near-term water management problems with shared and integrated water data.

It is important to ensure the IOW is grounded in a user-based approach. To do that, the report recommends that the public and private sector develop water data sharing and integration efforts centered around water management programs and anchor tenants. It identifies anchor tenants as key sectors, organizations, and institutional users who would benefit from open water data and integrated data sharing platforms.

Integrating existing public water data and develop tools to facilitate connecting data producers and users is the second recommendation. Developing water catalogs that identify public water data maintained by states is key. The catalog should include a list of all public water data, its metadata, a link to the data, and contact information for the data producer. Since states have authority over water rights, they are the logical candidates for hosting a data catalog.

The last recommendation is to connect regional data sharing communities that can address near-term water management problems for key sectors. There are existing and emerging water data hubs across the U.S. The report recommends that the IOW should begin by investing in these hubs, allowing them to expand, and increasing interconnections between them. In order to structure and enable a system of federated data, a national backbone organization needs to be formed.

Key stakeholders need to be given the necessary data they need to more sustainably manage water. The sooner an IOW is formed, the better off we all will be because water is the substance of life.

Photo: Aspen Institute