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There are many obstacles to improving water resource management in the U.S., ranging from fragmented federal and state policies and the myriad of institutional silos to the absence of a centralized resource “caretaker” and the lack of information.  However, now with the advent of big data and emerging technologies, there are increasing opportunities to produce better data which, in turn, can help better inform decision-making at all levels of government and users.  Toward this end, the Aspen Institute published this month a report that advances thoughtful ideas on this topic.  The report is titled Internet of Water: Sharing and Integrating Water Data for Sustainability. 

Here are excerpts of findings and principles highlighted in the report.

PART 1: FINDINGS AND PRINCIPLES

The Dialogue Group developed three major findings around the challenges and opportunities of creating a national water data and information policy framework. The key findings of the group are that: (1) water data are undervalued; (2) there is a priority on simply making public water data open; and (3) water data could be most effectively integrated through a federated system of local, regional and national data hubs supported by a national backbone organization. Through this report, we refer to this federated system as the Internet of Water (IOW). While many elements of the IOW currently exist across the nation, the findings and recommendations below put forward a strategy to rapidly accelerate its development over the coming years. Progress towards a national water data and information policy requires coordinated action of a large number of public and private sector actors across local, state, regional, and national scales. Given the need to coordinate action across numerous and diverse stakeholders, the group chose to adopt a principles-based approach to data sharing and integration. A principles-based approach outlines standards and expectations to guide data-sharing efforts while allowing variation and flexibility on implementation. In addition, a principles-based approach to the IOW allows individual organizations to continue their specific missions while simultaneously enabling a broader network of sharing and integration. These principles are a starting point and should be revisited over time as technology advances and the primary needs around water data evolve. The Dialogue focused around the need for open water data to address one of the country’s most pressing challenges: how to improve our water data infrastructure to enable us to more sustainably manage our water resources. To sustainably manage any resource, there needs to be a good accounting system. Currently, we are unable to answer fundamental questions, referred to as a “water budget”, about our water systems in a timely way:

• How much water is there?
• What is its quality?
• How is it used (i.e., withdrawn, consumed or returned for different purposes)?

FINDING 1: THE VALUE OF OPEN, SHARED, AND INTEGRATED WATER DATA HAS NOT BEEN WIDELY QUANTIFIED, DOCUMENTED, OR COMMUNICATED

Principle 1.1: A user-based approach will maximize the value of water data.

FINDING 2: MAKING EXISTING PUBLIC WATER DATA OPEN IS A PRIORITY

Principle 2.1: All public water data needed to characterize and forecast water budgets, should be open by default, discoverable, and digitally accessible.

Principle 2.2: Water data standards to promote interoperability, efficiency, and user-flexibility will evolve in response to user demand.

Principle 2.3: Data producers are responsible for sharing data of known quality and documenting essential metadata; end users bear final responsibility for determining whether the data is fit for use.

Principle 2.4: Data should be shared as openly as possible, consistent with the principle that any security and privacy risks associated with sharing need to be balanced with the potential benefits.

FINDING 3: THE APPROPRIATE ARCHITECTURE FOR AN “INTERNET OF WATER” IS A FEDERATION OF DATA PRODUCERS, HUBS, AND USERS

Principle 3.1: Control and responsibility over data is best maintained by data producers.

Principle 3.2: A federated system of public water data hubs provides scalability and financial stability to better meet the diverse needs of data users.

Principle 3.3: A backbone organization should link data hubs and facilitate governance of the system, but not govern the production or use of data.