New App Empowers Community Water Monitors

Understanding Landscape Is Key to Improving Water Quality
High-Resolution Look at the Landscape Conditions Provides More Insight 

Annapolis, Md – Today, The Water Data Collaborative (WDC) released a new web-based application and accompanying StoryMap to help community scientists better understand the landscape that drains into the body of water they are monitoring. Chesapeake Conservancy is a founding member of WDC, and the Pisces Foundation funded the Chesapeake Conservancy Conservation Innovation Center’s work on this project.

The new app will help existing monitoring programs by providing a high-resolution look at the landscape conditions, which can be compared to observed water quality trends. For groups or individuals that are looking for opportunities for restoration and conservation, this tool can also be used to target the most at-risk areas.

“It is well established that when a watershed experiences more than 10% impervious land cover, water quality becomes degraded. Nationally, and despite almost 50 years of the Clean Water Act, almost 70% of our waterways remain unassessed. This is where the work of community science monitors come in, but to make the most of their efforts, it is important to plan monitoring activities in a way that will lead to the most useful data for the questions they are trying to answer,” said Chesapeake Conservancy Geospatial Analyst Emily Wiggans. “This tool can help with those planning efforts by ensuring the most at-risk and urbanized watersheds can be identified for monitoring. It can also be used in efforts to identify target catchments for conservation or restoration, if for example, a catchment has a high portion of land with impervious surfaces, such as buildings and roads, landscape restoration efforts may be able to improve water quality.”

Photo courtesy of: Will Parson / Chesapeake Bay Program

“The Conservancy’s Conservation Innovation Center has yet again set an incredibly high bar in making their high resolution land use land cover data accessible to community scientists and decision makers,” said Commons Executive Director John Dawes. “This data represents the future of what’s possible for environmental decision making. We couldn’t be more fortunate to have a partner like this at the table to help WDC continue to innovate and uplift community monitoring programs across the nation.”

“Sound data underpin important water management policies and regulations,” said Dr. Jerad Bales, Executive Director of the Consortium of Universities for the Advancement of Hydrologic Science (CUAHSI).  “As a member of the WDC, CUAHSI values community water data. Community water monitoring data collected by volunteers have been shown to fill important data gaps in many basins, and these data often are of the same quality as data collected by agencies. The understanding of landscape conditions provided by this tool will assist in planning new community monitoring and will provide enlightened interpretation of existing data.”

The tool is initially intended for use in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed, with hopes to expand in the future to other areas where there is additional available high-resolution land cover. It is intended that the tool will be updated as the latest land cover data from Chesapeake Conservancy is updated in 2021.

While other similar applications exist, this tool helps to demonstrate more precisely the land cover at a finer scale using the newest National Hydrography Dataset (NHD Plus HR Beta). While the dataset is currently in beta version, it presents the most high-resolution national water dataset to date, at the smallest catchment-scale unit.