Question: Why do individuals/organizations want to collect water quality data?

wmacfarl is asking a question about water-quality
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by wmacfarl | September 18, 2019 19:45 | #20917

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Briefly: I am thinking about tool and project development for water quality monitoring around oil and gas pollution. In order to develop useful data-collection tools we need to know what kinds of things people want to use data for.

I can think of three general reasons that people and organizations collect this kind of environmental data but would love more insight and specifics. In particular I would really love to hear specific cases of community-collected data being useful, or circumstances when you have wished you had data that you didn't have and why you wanted it.

a) To answer _personal/community _questions: Is it safe to drink our water? Swim in this stream? Eat this fish that we caught? Are there certain times of year or kinds of events (such a rainstorms) that change these answers?

b) To advocate to a third party: Can we push for changing regulations, collect data to contradict an industry report that we don't believe, show that contamination is happening?

c) Curiosity/education/knowledge: Sometimes we aren't trying to do anything specific with information, but we want to have it for the sake of knowledge or we want to make it available because we suspect that someone else might want it. Making instrumentation and collecting data is an experience that helps people build technical confidence and data-literacy, both of which are valuable in lots of contexts, including environmental advocacy, even if the data itself is not.


In my community we are facing a lot of threats to water quality. We have many existing oil and gas wells and lots of agricultural land use. Recently there has been exploration by companies wanting to use fracking to extract more gas. We also have an expanding number of injection wells used for disposing of brine from fracking and various other "nontoxic" fluids. One of the injection well companies just got a permit to expand their operation by becoming a class 1 injection site. A large number of people in the community opposed the permit, and attended the EPA public comment meetings to voice their concerns. The EPA listened politely but granted the permit because the company met their criteria and the community couldn't provide any evidence to support their concerns and justify denying the permit. There is a need for multi-point, longitudinal data collection in areas where these activities are taking place so changes in water quality can be shown by verifiable data. This is the only way to impact policy.

So in this case, access to data collected in communities around other similar injection wells documenting harm would have strengthened your ability to oppose the permit?

More generally: collecting data documenting harm in one community can be useful to other communities facing similar threats, as well as to advocates and activists in the initial community....

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Yes. Documented harm in other communities would have been helpful. But, the more important thing is documented change. "Harm" may be decades away, but without the evidence of change there is no cause and effect trail. No one is required to monitor change in water systems. By the time harm is notable it is too late.

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