Alberta WaterPortal provides a one-stop shop for the province’s water data.
When it comes to water, coordinating knowledge is a challenge—in Alberta alone, there are over 1,000 water-related organizations. Recognizing the need to connect communities, streamline and disseminate information, and add value to the goals of these groups, the team behind Alberta WaterSMART, a not-for-profit society dedicated to the improvement of water management awareness, technologies and practices in Alberta, has partnered with the Bow River Basin Council, IBM, and Tesera Systems to deliver the Alberta WaterPortal.
“Our goal is to provide free and open access to water data information and knowledge,” says Mike Scarth, the Portal’s executive director. “Access to information is the foundation for effective decision making and sustainable management of water.”
Two major sources provide content to the Portal. “Most of the content comes from searching and research that we do ourselves, but a growing portion of content is contributed and shared by visitors to the site.” Visitors to the site, says Scarth, reflect a very diverse community from the water sector, educational institutions and the general public. “Teachers make up one of the most exciting groups—they tell us that their kids are passionate about the environment and trying to make a difference. They’re looking for new ways to get them engaged.”
Gathering all of the information into one place isn’t as easy as it looks, so the team has developed a few additional tools to make it easier. In January 2011, in partnership with the Alberta Water Research Institute, the Portal will launch the Water Data Access Module, a customized Google search engine that will provide access to thousands of searchable sources of data.
What’s next for the WaterPortal? “We’re looking at expanding opportunities and partnerships beyond Alberta over next two years throughout western Canada and then nationally,” says Scarth. In collaboration with Cybera, Western Economic Diversification, University of Lethbridge, University of Calgary, and Tesera, the WaterSMART team is involved in creation of the Water and Environmental Hub (WE Hub), an open source web platform that promises to aggregate, federate, and connect water data—initially across Alberta but will expand to include adjacent jurisdictions such as British Columbia, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northwest Territories and the Yukon to leverage and build on existing water knowledge. The project is valued at $1.758 million.
In the meantime, Scarth and his team are beginning to work with the 12 major watershed groups in Alberta, helping them to get their data onto the web—an important task, Scarth believes, because these groups have been tasked to be stewards. “One of the biggest challenges they have is communicating the health of their watersheds and basins. We’re building web-enabled tools so they can share the most recent data and information regarding quality and quantity,” explains Scarth. “We want to connect Albertans with all of the work and research that’s happening around water.” — Kerry Freek