“If I Can’t Picture It, I Can’t Understand It” – Data Acquisition and Visualization in Orange County
“If I can’t picture it, I can’t understand it” – many attribute this quote to Albert Einstein but it may as well have been the modern day stormwater program manager tasked with making sense of vast amounts of data ranging in complexity from basic fixed asset inventories to bioassessment monitoring results. Just simply managing this diverse data and data sources, and the workflows surrounding them is challenging enough. Analyzing and assessing the data and translating it into meaningful decisions about which levers, knobs, and dials to adjust (otherwise known as the “adaptive management process”) takes the challenge to a whole other level.
The Orange County Stormwater Program (Program) has adopted a monitoring assessment approach that seeks answers to assist decision-makers with the adaptive management process by focusing on answering the following fundamental questions:
1.Is there a problem?
2.If so, what is the magnitude and extent?
3.What are the sources?
4.Are conditions getting better or worse?
5.Are management actions working as intended?
The principal permittee of the Program, OC Public Works, is exploring new methods of data acquisition and visualization that support this assessment approach by:
1. Providing easy access to data in an environment where spatial and temporal analysis can be performed;
2. Promoting real time acquisition and visualization of data using remote sensors and mobile data collection tools; and,
3. Facilitating interpretation and analysis of data to support an effective decision-making process.
The use of cloud-based applications has allowed OC Public Works to integrate a number of applications. For example, mobile data collection is now being done interactively with established SQL server databases which are used to manage hydrologic and water quality data. As observations, instrument readings, and photos are collected by field staff, they are uploaded though a cloud-based application which automatically populates a database, eliminating the need for the data to be handled more than once. At the same time, this mobile data is pushed to a GIS portal where it can be viewed in real time by program managers, stakeholders, and the public, depending on the need.
Supplementing the mobile data collection efforts of field staff, OC Public Works is piloting the use of remote water quality sensors that can be deployed at monitoring stations and transmit data in real time using cellular technology. This allows physical parameters such as pH, temperature, conductivity, and dissolved oxygen to be monitored over an extended period of time, which provides valuable information on how a specific location is impacted by different sized storm events. This technology also holds great potential for developing greater understanding of changes in conditions during dry weather. For example, deployment of this technology, combined with flow measurement at a stormdrain outfall, could provide a profile that would be helpful in identifying sources of non-stormwater runoff.
To assist decision-makers with interpretation and analysis of water quality monitoring and other data types, OC Public Works staff is also working on dashboard visualization tools and the use of indices that can aggregate large amounts of complex data and provide answers to the 5 fundamental assessment questions. By utilizing R Programming with web-based solutions, dashboards which allow the user to query and display data in a graphical format has allowed greater understanding of current conditions and the identification of trends over time. Also, a water quality index developed by the Canadian Council of Ministers of the Environment (CCME) has been adapted and used to communicate information in an illustrative way that is easily understood by a non-technical audience.