The last week in April marked the 13th convening of the National Water Quality Monitoring Conference, and the first in-person meeting of the conference since the 2020 pandemic. Representatives from organizations across the country, including The Commons and the Water Data Collaborative, came together for a week of panels, discussions, and workshops aimed at advancing U.S. water quality monitoring efforts. With a myriad of different topics represented, this year's conference had a strong focus on advances in monitoring technology as well as the amazing progress seen in community and volunteer monitoring programs.
Both The Commons and the Water Data Collaborative (WDC) were present at the conference, with the Water Data Collaborative hosting two sessions centered around connecting community generated water quality data to decision makers; with one session having presentations centered around approaches to this topic and another with presentations focusing on various technologies used in this space. In this session, The Commons Project Strategy and Outreach Lead Erin Hofmann presented on data best practices and what’s needed to get community water quality practitioners adopting them in their monitoring programs. Other presentation topics included a Report Card health assessment by Heal the Bay in Santa Monica, CA, a closer look at Izaak Walton League’s Salt Watch program, the use of Stroud Water Research Center’s EnviroDIY sensors in water quality monitoring, and many more. We saw a lot of promising investment in digital strategies to reach environmental outcomes in the presentations, a clear sign that adoption of these technologies is providing promotable benefit to community-based monitoring groups.
Community water quality monitoring was heavily present at the conference with numerous organizations presenting on their programs, monitoring do’s and don’ts, and data management tools. Water data was a common thread throughout all of the community-based presentations with many organizations putting an increased focus on data sovereignty as well as a desire to submit their data to the EPA’s Water Quality Exchange (WQX). For those of us that work to promote increased data literacy and data democratization in the water quality space we hope to see this trend continue to grow in line with heightened interest in integrated and connected water datasets. Our conversations with practitioners across the nation made it clear that while there is still an abundance of work to do surrounding data management in community based monitoring, the enthusiasm and willingness of organizations to invest in data best practices is growing — an encouraging insight for the current state of water quality monitoring in the U.S..
Looking forward to the rest of 2023 and beyond, it is essential that we keep these meetings and conversations at the forefront of our work in the water quality space. While it’s important that we continue our pace in technology and monitoring innovation, it's also essential that we do so intentionally and pragmatically. As the saying goes, we don't want to “get out over our skis” and sacrifice proper techniques and planning for fast and furious unchecked innovation. The Commons’ approach of learning about the goals of monitoring programs and then offering tools to support their needs continues to be the best way that we can support this important work. In the community water quality space the Water Data Collaborative will continue to promote active adoption of the WDC Community Monitoring Framework as well as capacity building; while we at The Commons will continue to provide vital environmental data management solutions and data services for organizations across the water quality sector.