Community-Based Water Monitoring and Decision Making

Read the full paper here.

Community-based monitoring (CBM) is a type of scientific data collection that is led and driven by citizens or non-governmental organizations and seeks to increase direct community involvement in research and monitoring program design. This report considers three core challenges for CBM: (1) ensuring CBM data are credible, (2) ensuring CBM data effectively inform decision-makers, and (3) ensuring CBM data are accessible and aggregated across watersheds and regions. Given the mutual benefits afforded by CBM to communities and governments, this report is intended to identify successful approaches to address these challenges when incorporating CBM water quality data into Canada’s water monitoring framework.

This report presents national, supranational and subnational case studies from the United States of America, Australia, and the European Union to examine: (1) how community-based monitoring groups in these jurisdictions collect water quality data, (2) how governments have variously used CBM data in databases and decision making, and (3) how the availability and accessibility of CBM data affects agencies and organizations. The case studies examined offer unique lessons that can be applied in the Canadian context:

United States of America: the United States Environmental Protection Agency offers a model framework of how national governments can provide guidance and coordination for regional CBM activities. This includes the Agency’s Quality Assurance Project Plans that outlines procedures to align data formats so that they are usable by the Agency and other departments. Examples from Oregon show how CBM and government data can be integrated and quality controlled so that they are useful for government reporting. Comprehensive watershed management and conservation plans, such as those carried out by the National Estuary Program, offer useful examples of how CBM data can have an impact on decision making at the national level.
Australia: the National Water Quality Management Strategy adopted in 1992 continues to provide a powerful roadmap for local, state and national governments to coordinate the water quality and quantity monitoring necessary to design and implement comprehensive water and ecosystem management plans. The strategy supports CBM data collection (primarily through Waterwatch programs) and exemplifies how volunteer involvement in monitoring can increase the spatial scale of activities while fostering strong community engagement in watershed management and planning. Australian examples point to approaches that governments can use to either develop their own water quality databases that integrate CBM data and / or how to prioritize technical support and funding for existing CBM groups’ databases.

European Union: The European Union’s Water Framework Directive is a strong model of how a comprehensive water strategy can draw data from multiple sources across jurisdictions to achieve a common vision for water management while embedding enough flexibility to meet local water needs. Examples of software development for CBM database management in countries within the European Union point to helpful approaches to ensure transparency and sustainability of systems in the long-term.
The case studies presented indicate that collecting, using and sharing CBM water quality data would increase the amount of information available on many of Canada’s watersheds, and would support a more comprehensive understanding of watersheds and watershed impacts caused by industrial projects, climate change, and government decisions about land use.