Water Atlas - online water quality information

05/29/07 Seán Kinane
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This week the Patel Center for Global Solutions at USF along with the Florida Earth Foundation are hosting twenty students from the UNESCO-IHE Water Institute in The Netherlands that grants advanced degrees in water related issues. The students are water managers from various developing countries in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. This morning at USF the students learned about a local online water information resource called Water Atlas. WMNF’s Seán Kinane reports.



Terry Johnson is a Research Associate for USF’s Florida Center for Community Design and Research, which developed the Water Atlas. He said it contains information about water quality that can be used by citizens and decision makers.



“It’s a wonderful resource for anybody from a fisherman who’s going out for the day all the way up to an environmental scientist with the local government who’s looking for the latest water quality information. What it really is, it represents a collection of all of that information so that people can sort of form their own opinions about things, and of course they have the opportunity to contribute data back to it. It really becomes a two-way street for information ranging from citizens all the way up to our decision makers, County Commissioners, and their environmental scientists.”



Currently, the Water Atlas contains information about bodies of water and watersheds in nine counties along the I-4 corridor from Tampa Bay to the Orlando area. In the next few months it will expand to include Volusia County on the east coast and also Leon County in the panhandle.



Jim Griffin is also a Research Associate with the Florida Center for Community Design and Research. He described the kinds of data that were collected on twenty-four lakes last summer.



“My goal was to be able to get on any lake with a system that we could get a very good assessment of that lake, very good assessment of that lake, and do it about one day per lake. I wanted to do the mapping of the lake, the morphology, the biology, its chemistry and then I wanted to present that information.”



Griffin warned that changes lakeside homeowners make to their lakes, such as the addition of herbivorous fish, could have negative impacts on the lake. Here he talks about the addition of a fish turning a phosphorous-limited lake from one dominated by plants to one dominated by microscopic algae.



“[Because in lake management,] one of the problems we’re having in lakes is people want to get rid of the vegetation. They want to put carp in it. Many of you probably know what carp do; they eat vegetation. They do a good job of it. But if they take out all that vegetation you’re going to have a macrophytic system going into a microphytic system and you’re going to have a green lake. Which people with lots of money don’t like to see and we’re trying to educate them."



Griffin described one way the Water Atlas can be used – to determine where the septic systems are and how they might affect water quality.



“A lot of our county, Hillsborough County, is on a distribution system and a lot is not. Septic systems can, if they’re not properly managed, especially, can contribute in a negative way to water quality. So knowing where they are is very important. We’re mapping those.”



Griffin said that the revolution leading to the insecticide DDT being banned might not have been possible had it not been for Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring. He hopes that the Water Atlas website can act as a modern-day parallel to Carson’s book by bringing important water quality data to the public.



“She brought that to the attention, and that’s where we get into my subject of informatics, because if it was not for her understanding of the information and bringing that information to people through a book, and at that time that was the best way to get that information out, that revolution would have never begun.”



The Florida Center for Community Design and Research plan to eventually make the Water Atlas cover the entire state. It also can be integrated into other projects, like, as Terry Johnson explains, a Community Atlas.



“This is a resource. It’s meant to be useful to people, it’s also meant to be improved on a regular basis. And one way we can do that is to get the users of the resource to give us feedback. And they’re able to do that right on the atlas itself, they’re also able to look at the Community Atlas which is kind of a spin-off from the Water Atlas, that has community information ranging from crime statistics to education and demographics and lots of other information.”


You can find water-quality information on the Water Atlas website at Wateratlas.org . Community information can be found on the Community Atlas website -- Hillsborough.communityatlas.org .



For WMNF News, I’m Seán Kinane






Water Atlas / wateratlas.org





Florida Center for Community Design & Research





Hillsborough Community Atlas / hillsborough.communityatlas.org






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