Charu Varadharajan of Berkeley Lab and Kamyar Guivetchi of California Department of Water Resources (DWR) at a workshop Wednesday focused on open, transparent water data for California.

Experts from California’s water resource community gathered Wednesday at the Berkeley International House to exchange ideas on how best to meet the need for open and transparent water data in California. Nearly 100 attendees from more than 60 organizations representing government, industry, water districts, universities, national laboratories, and the state legislature were in attendance.

While achieving a sustainable water future is critical for California’s economy and quality of life, ensuring sustainability in the context of a decreasing snowpack and a growing population is a challenge. California industries, such as agriculture, energy, and tourism, are inextricably linked to water. More than 85 percent of Californians live in cities, making the nation’s most populous state an example for how to maintain quality urban water supplies amidst the rapid urbanization taking place across the planet.

Also dependent on adequate water are thousands of California endemic plants and animals that earn California its designation among the most biodiverse spots in the world. Yet, as Californians go about about their daily lives, few recognize the importance  – and difficulty – of ensuring water experts have access to quality water data.

The event was fourth in a series of workshops motivated by California State Assembly Bill 1755, which requires actions such as integrating the state’s water and ecological data within one statewide water data platform.  Berkeley Lab hosted the event, working with  California Council on Science and Technology (CCST),  the California Department of Water Resources (DWR), and UC Water. The series of workshops, interspersed with meetings by technical and stakeholder working groups, have focused on developing a shared vision for providing useful California water data to enable sound, sustainable water resource management.

More than 85 percent of Californians live in cities, making the nation’s most populous state an example for how to maintain quality urban water supplies amidst the rapid urbanization taking place across the planet.

Wednesday’s event focused on sharing progress made towards fulfilling that vision, and included discussions about decision-driven data provisioning, an open water information system, and forward-looking aspects of governance, partnership, and financing important for ensuring the adoption, utility, and longevity of a water information system. The workshop marked a significant milestone in the evolution of an open and transparent water data system important for California’s continued prosperity.

Susan Hubbard, Berkeley Lab Associate Director and CCST member

Susan Hubbard, Berkeley Lab Associate Director and a member of CCST, explains that while water-related data are becoming increasingly available, it remains very difficult to use the data to underpin water management and policy decisions, such as those associated with water balance, water quality, water transfers, aquatic ecosystem health, and wetland restoration.“This is because the data are not easily discoverable and are inoperable, diverse, and distributed,” Hubbard says. “AB1755 has motivated agencies and stakeholders to work with the research community to develop a vision for technology that could enable easier access and use of  multiple distributed datasets….to transform the data into information and knowledge.”

The workshop’s morning presentations described technological and strategic constructs  important for establishing an open and transparent California water information system for California. Christine McCready, Matt Correa, and Gary Darling of DWR discussed how AB1755 provided an opportunity to increase access to and integrate water data collected by a variety of agencies, which can improve water resources management and operations through data-driven decision making and improve transparency and accountability.

They described DWR’s collaborations to establish a strategic plan with partner agencies such as the State Water Resources Control Board, California Fish and Wildlife, and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research. The  draft strategic plan emphasizes  aspects important for ensuring that data are sufficient, accessible, useful, and used. Michael Kiparsky of UC Water  and John Helly of UCSD described developments associated with decision-driven water data provisioning and open water data information architecture, respectively.

While water-related data are becoming increasingly available, it remains very difficult to use the data to underpin water management and policy decisions, such as those associated with water balance, water quality, water transfers, aquatic ecosystem health, and wetland restoration.

A lively panel discussion focused on policy perspectives for water data in California followed, featuring California Senator Dodd (D-Napa), who was the author of AB 1755, as well as Joya Banerjee with the Stephen D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, and Steven Moore, vice chair of the State Water Resources Control Board. The panelists contemplated a wide range of topics important for California’s water future and the implementation of AB1755.

Moore described water data transparency as a pressing issue for the public. “There’s urgency to openness and transparent water data because the bill for water infrastructure is coming due. Information about open water data will be central to the discussion of renewing that infrastructure.”

John Helly of UCSD was among the presenters at the workshop, AB1755 and Beyond: Open and Transparent Water Data in California.

Senator Dodd expressed gratitude for the swift and substantial progress that has been made to date to operationalize AB1755. “Good information is the basis for good decisions and a well-functioning water market. My hope is that everyone can benefit from the data platform.”

“There’s urgency to openness and transparent water data because the bill for water infrastructure is coming due. Information about open water data will be central to the discussion of renewing that infrastructure.”

After the panel discussion, attendees gathered in small breakout groups to discuss forward-looking aspects. Deb Agarwal, senior scientist, Berkeley Lab Computational Research Division, and Peter Nico, Lead of the Resilient Energy, Water and Infrastructure Program Domain at Berkeley Lab, facilitated an exchange of ideas on how to make data sufficiently available for various water quality challenges in California.

Agarwal emphasized the importance of designing the functionality of a  California water information system based on exemplary questions and common products – graphs, tables, or other output – that the user needs.

“While some of these products can be made now, they take a substantial amount of time to produce manually – a statewide water data platform can  automate data management and integration  to shorten the time and improve the accuracy and information content of the result.”

Charu Varadharajan, biogeochemist and environmental data scientist at Berkeley Lab, led a lively discussion centered on how participants would like to use a developed system to address challenges associated with California water budgets. Two other breakout groups discussed aspects of system architecture, governance, financing, and partnerships.

Hubbard, a hydrologist, says, “We asked participants to imagine how they would like to use a statewide integrated water data platform. Some would like to use the system to  know when to lift an inflatable dam or divert water; some to inform communities when to stop pumping groundwater, some to govern environmental flows, and others whether the water is safe for drinking. All could likely benefit from a system where high-quality  but diverse data from multiple sources are accessible and can be easily analyzed and integrated on a single platform using advanced workflows, analytical, and modeling tools that are available now but not yet common in practice.”

We asked participants to imagine how they would like to use a statewide integrated water data platform. Some would like to use the system to  know when to lift an inflatable dam or divert water; some to inform communities when to stop pumping groundwater, some to govern environmental flows, and others whether the water is safe for drinking.

Much of Wednesday’s success is owed to the diverse expertise and perspectives brought to the table by panelists and facilitators, representing so many different aspects of the water community. It was evident, however, that regardless of their knowledge or role, participants shared the belief that there was never a better time to invest in an open and transparent water data system – and that California was poised to lead the way.

Steven Moore put it this way, “Conversations with so many members of water communities from California and beyond have made one thing clear to me. California can lead on this issue. Other states want to learn from what we are doing.

“There are many issues to which the public has shown it is ready to pay attention: flooding, access to drinkable water, and having places where we can fish and eat the fish. The importance of water experts having access to quality data associated with these issues is a livability issue for humans and wildlife.”

Above: Gary Darling of CA-DWR discusses open water information architecture; Panelists renowned for their work within California’s water community, Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), Joya Banerjee, and Steven Moore, gathered for a panel discussion. Below: Deb Agarwal of Berkeley Lab’s Computational Research Division addresses the workshop following afternoon breakout sessions as Peter Nico of Resilient Energy, Water and Infrastructure Program Domain at Berkeley Lab looks on. Photos by Peter DaSilva/Berkeley Lab