California Multi-Stakeholder Response to Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring

A case study of successful partnership and collaboration
Digital Services
December 20, 2021
California Multi-Stakeholder Response to Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring

Over the past two years, the Internet of Water and The Commons have been collaborating with Native American Tribal Governments, leading community science NGOs, California’s Water Control Boards, members of the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard and Assessment, and the Water Data Collaborative to enable state agencies to leverage monitoring data to better inform the public about local freshwater harmful algal blooms. A panel of project leaders spoke about implementing all aspects of the project — tiered data management, database alignment, API development, software training, stakeholder engagement, and more.

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Image shared via SWAMP HAB Field Guide — Visual Guide to Observing Blooms

Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms persisting in California

Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms are an increasing problem across California. They represent an area and opportunity where community scientists and Tribal Governments on the same land can assist in California’s response strategy. A key piece of the response strategy needs to address existing problems around data flow for data collection and response for harmful algal blooms.

“As Government, we are the stewards of [everyone’s] interests and in the case of water… water infrastructure is water data infrastructure in this current world. For our ability as an organization of governments charged with this mission, this project has shown… what it means to do the hard work of understanding communities interests, of giving control over their data, and how they use that data,” explained Greg Gearhart, Deputy Director, Office of Information Management and Analysis, at California State Water Resources Control Board.

Image shared via SWAMP HAB Field Guide — Visual Guide to Observing Blooms

The State of California only began an official harmful algal bloom program in 2020. The program came into being as a result of a multi-year legislative process. This state program benefits from existing monitoring efforts already underway and need to build out the resources to do additional work to identify gaps and opportunities to empower community and Tribal Partners to do jobs to deliver better water outcomes.

Fostering a Network of that facilitates Data Sharing for Monitoring and Response

The effort needs buy-in from non-Water Board participants. To energize and organize stakeholders, The Internet of Water identified partners and reached out to a group of community partners from the CCHAB network of Tribal Governments as well as California community watershed groups. Together the group conducted a series of assessments to determine the data that was available and useful to integrate into the data collected by the State of CA. Also, the effort aimed to understand the data storing sharing capacity and mechanisms from these organizations that are outside of the state. The first project goal was to determine what a full capacity program required and to to create an ingestion framework to the state system with little burden to their programs.

“Our big ideas in community engagement sometimes turn into really big burdens for the communities, and that is not what our intention is,” explained Ashley Ward, Internet of Water Senior Policy Associate, in terms of the intentionality of creating a framework for data sharing in this effort.

Image shared via SWAMP HAB Field Guide — Visual Guide to Observing Blooms

This effort also connected the State to Tribal Government in order to better understand the process within Tribal Governments for setting up notifications and alerts and the challenges they have had with sharing data.

This effort included Zoom conversations, participant surveys, and the development of an ingestion framework recommendation document. This document will be helpful for any partnerships looking to support state systems with data from organizations and agencies outside of the state. The document provides an example of how this can happen.

Benefits from this project included:

  1. Understanding partner capacity to contribute so that limitations can be addressed, opening up more opportunities for inclusion.
  2. Foster a relationships between state agency and outside organization and agencies on commonly shared issued. Great for brainstorming ideas on how to build robust, interactive, and useful systems.
  3. Creating an opportunity to encourage conversation on topics that often are ignored or given little attention, such as the value of data quality.

Building a Data Model that Welcomes Non-State Data

The project in phase two, the partners are now figuring out what it takes to cement the modernization of the data model and build long term capacity to sustain a data pipeline that informs and makes better water outcomes arrive.

“We need a better system to collect data and then feed it back to these partners, this is the data lifecycle. We want to deliver good, well-documented, and quality data at the end of the pipeline” explains Anna Holder, Environmental Scientist and Lead Data Model Developer for this project.

Image shared via SWAMP HAB Field Guide — Visual Guide to Observing Blooms

Data coming in from the public helps everyone to understand where blooms might be and which components of the information are important to help send staff out to collect sample data to inform risk assessment and, ultimately, communication with the public.

Before the establishment of SWAMP’s data, there was only one table to track all FHAB information. This was not a relational database which means it was extremely difficult to track staff time, responses, and threats, amongst other things. In other words, the old model was very restricting and inefficient in terms of both tracking and communication.

Pre-existing data model for data ingestion

Through the entire development of the new data model, partners kept a close eye on user needs both within the CA government and across all partners. The new data infrastructure contains information on bloom reporting data from the public but it also contains information on case management, field and lab data.

The new data model created in conjunction with this project.

This higher level of detail allows for much higher levels of analysis and decision-making. In this new relational database, there is much more flexibility and structure in the database for the core data workflow that will empower communication and collaboration both internally and externally. The new model also plugs into a community monitoring aspect via Water Reporter. Anyone who wants to contribute data to the FHAB data, they will be able to do that through Water Reporter. The goal here is to remove barriers to submitting data. By using user-centered design principles we are able to keep efficiencies and capacity constraints front and center for the monitoring groups.

This project is ongoing and we look forward to sharing more updates as more groups join Water Reporter and contribute their monitoring data to the state-wide effort.

Watch the Webinar