The Water and Environmental Hub and Environment Canada…in the same stream, but with an open data paddle

By Alex Joseph, Executive Director, Water and Environment Hub

banner background smallestLast week, I — along with the whole Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB) team at the University of Lethbridge (Dr. Dan Weeks, Dr. Stewart Rood, and Dr. Joseph Rasmussen) — had the opportunity to meet with Darren Goetze and his colleagues at Environment Canada in Ottawa; Darren is the Executive Director of Water Quality Monitoring and Surveillance. Aside from learning about some of their data challenges, and signalling our support of their efforts to make water data accessible, we also had a chance to showcase the WEHUB and how its scalable, open-web platform could assist in bridging the gap between data producers and consumers.

Part of our presentation to them hinted at the (r)evolution underway for the past decade or so within the government agencies that are seen as authorities on monitoring and data collection. We described how, in the '90s, an organization like Environment Canada had most of its data in only a few formats (including a lot of paper) and how it had only a few "clients" who were utilizing and consuming this data. 

Today, however, Environment Canada is awash in vast amounts of data being collected in real-time by an increasing number of sensors and web-enabled devices, many with different formats…and their client list is growing. 

Where Environment Canada once provided data to a few other government departments, it now faces many data requests from academia, industry, NGOs, and all levels of government. And it is conceivable that at some point in the near future, every Canadian will knowingly or unknowingly become data customers and request federal government data through a web-enabled device.

At this point in our presentation, one of the Environment Canada personnel chimed in, saying: "We believe we have two clients… Parliament and Canadian citizens." What a great point; it signifies that they really get it. 

To serve that "market," open data and cloud-based platforms like the WEHUB can provide an efficient, scalable solution to connect all Canadians with water data.

In January, the WEHUB team had a similar meeting with Alberta Environment and Water in Edmonton, and it seems that both the provincial and federal government departments are facing similar challenges. Interesting to note is British Columbia's Ministry of Environment approach to the challenge: Their research into water information resources is summarized in this document and they are in the midst of canvassing public opinion on next steps. 

The WEHUB has been asked to present our thoughts and experiences on the topic directly to the Ministry later this month, and we all look forward to having the opportunity to continue spreading the word about the potential of our apps.