Forecast for Stormwater Program Data in Orange County: Cloudy with a Good Chance of Sharing and Collaboration
The Orange County Stormwater Program is a cooperative regional effort funded by 34 cities, the County of Orange, and the Orange County Flood Control District. The goals of the program include improving the quality of stormwater runoff, reducing urban runoff, protecting surface water bodies from pollution, and facilitating compliance with MS4 permits. Staff in the OC Watersheds Division of OC Public Works manage the countywide stormwater program and close to half of the annual budget of around $5 million is dedicated to environmental monitoring. Nearly 10,000 environmental samples are collected each year by OC Watersheds staff for laboratory analysis, generating more than 65,000 data points each year. All of this data is entered into a customized Microsoft SQL Server database where it is stored until needed for compliance reporting purposes.
While this has been the traditional monitoring data management configuration for many Phase I municipal stormwater programs over the last decade or more, evolving MS4 permits and a shift in program effectiveness assessment methodology have lead to a need and a general desire to integrate and make better use of monitoring data (and other stormwater program data) not just for reporting purposes, but in the day to day management of stormwater program elements. In searching for a cost-effective cloud-based data management solution that could help fill this need, the Orange County Stormwater Program was introduced to GIS Cloud in the summer of 2013 and the innovation, sharing, collaboration, and new ideas have been non-stop ever since.
GIS Cloud is a web-based application that requires no software licenses or downloads - anyone with an internet connection can use it - from any device - including smart phones and tablets. You do not have to be a trained GIS professional to create, share, and edit content. Creating maps from any data set you have is easy and only takes seconds. The real power lies in the ability to then share that map, and data, with anyone you choose, including the general public, and allow them the ability to view, or even collaborate and edit or add their own data as well. Since discovering GIS Cloud last summer, OC Watersheds staff have used it in a number of ways to support the Orange County Stormwater Program.
In March of 2014, utilizing GIS Cloud, a monitoring data portal was launched to provide the MS4 permittees in Orange County (and all others), direct access to water quality monitoring data and other geospatial data, in a dynamic, interactive environment. The greatest innovation in terms of integrating stormwater however, has come though the mobile data collection capabilities of the application. Within a matter of minutes, you have the ability to set up a customized mobile data collection form and start submitting data to any map you have developed. OC Watersheds has utilized smart phone devices with this mobile data collection technology to enable staff to more efficiently and effectively manage field assets such as:
- stream and rainfall gauges;
- monitoring equipment and instruments; and,
- monitoring stations
Additionally, the mobile data collection capabilities have allowed field monitoring and inspection programs (industrial, commercial, post-construction, etc.) to convert field log sheets and inspection forms from paper to electronic, and submit data, photos, videos, and audio content, from the field. For dry weather outfall monitoring programs which OC Watersheds implements on behalf of the Orange County Stormwater Program, this has allowed municipal stormwater program managers to view data on their outfalls in real time, and make quick decisions on any follow-up source investigations into potential illicit discharges. For post-construction BMP inspections, the mobile data collection capabilities allow the field inspector to pinpoint the precise locations of BMPs, and access the approved post-construction plan, from a smart phone device.