I had the privilege of attending the Department of Water Resources's Water Plan Plenary this year. The Water Plan is a comprehensive planning framework that invites all stakeholders and interested parties to participate in forming future directives for California water. This year, the plenary was held at the Red Lion Woodlake Conference Center in Sacramento. Amidst the sounds of clinking chips from the in-house casino, and the three story spray of a massive courtyard fountain, there was much discussion about the future of water in our changing state.
See PDFs of slide presentations here.
While orderly, there was much deliberation and hesitation over language and assumptions. Between multiple sessions, and interim discussions, it became apparent, that a clear description of the often nuanced and complex issues facing water users and our environment was of paramount importance. In our review sessions, we could hardly get past a single slide without a twenty minute discussion. The goal was clearly to get feedback, so spending large amounts of time on a single phrase, map, or diagram was not out of scope for such a meeting. I was impressed by the emphasis on communicating to citizens and stakeholders, especially in light of how little budget is devoted to a “public understanding” of water at all levels of government.
The highlight though was a summary and recommendations by tribal leaders recounting and reflecting on the recent Tribal Water Summit. It was great to hear from tribal leaders about progress that has been made, and the long road ahead reconciling the many issues that tribal communities face. A refreshing and needed interlude was a very basic intro to the concept of tribal ecological knowledge by Ron Goode, Chairman of the North Fork Mono tribe.
During a groundwater session, I had the opportunity to make recommendations about DWR's CASGEM groundwater elevation data repository. Armed with guidelines from both the Sunlight Foundation, and the Open Knowledge Foundation, and my own intimate knowledge of CASGEM, I suggested a handful of improvements. Here are some the documents that I drew from:
Open Data Policy Guidelines, Version 2.0
Defining Open Data
As someone focused on making water understandable, I was moved by this focus shared by many at the Water Plan Plenary, but troubled by its execution within DWR. Translating this information is hard work. There are professionals that stake a career in being able to communicate through interactive visualizations, or static graphics complex systems and relationships. After speaking to various DWR employees about workflows and methods, it became clear that not only is there not enough resources to support in-house efforts to communicate these issues, but little resources exist to seek private sector help to convey these priorities.