Advancing Water Resources Research and Management
|Symposium on Water Resources and the World Wide Web|
|Seattle, Washington, December 5-9, 1999|
Mindy L. Roberts, P.E.1 and Anna Eleria2
Table of Contents
The Charles River Watershed Association (CRWA) web site (www.crwa.org) communicates CRWAs environmental management initiatives, advocacy, research, education and recreation efforts to anyone with access to a Web browser. Two particular efforts provide water quality information to government agencies, river users, universities, and other organizations using simple graphics and maps.
CRWA posts monitoring data for the entire 80-mile length of the Charles River. Every month, CRWA and a network of over 80 volunteers collect samples from 37 stations under the Integrated Monitoring, Modeling and Management Project, which will formulate a comprehensive watershed management plan. The web site posts tables of water quality parameter results as well as monthly GIS maps of fecal coliform results. Fecal coliform concentrations determine whether the river meets state recreational standards. River reaches are color-coded by measured fecal coliform concentration. Red indicates concentrations exceed the boating standard (1,000/100 ml), yellow reaches exceed the swimming standard (200/100 ml) but meet the boating standard, and blue reaches meet both the swimming and boating standards.
CRWA also monitors fecal coliform bacteria in the Charles River Basin each weekday from May to October under the EMPACT/flagging program. A variety of boaters, from sailors to windsurfers, use the ten-mile region heavily, yet boaters are often unaware whether the water meets water quality standards for swimming or boating. The project provides real-time water quality information to river users through color-coded flags posted daily at nine boathouses and on the CRWA web site. Red flags indicate water quality conditions are likely to exceed state boating standards and may pose health risks, while blue flags indicate conditions are likely to meet boating standards.
CRWAs web site is one of the most effective and efficient means of communicating Charles River water quality and other information to the public and has produced several benefits to outreach, education and advocacy. In making water quality data available over the Internet, CRWA has significantly broadened and increased the audience of those interested in Charles River conditions.
The Charles River, the largest-volume discharge to Boston Harbor, travels 80 miles from its source and receives flow from a 310 square-mile watershed (Figure 1). The Charles River Watershed Association was formed in 1965 in response to public concern about the declining condition of the Charles River due to both point and nonpoint source pollution. While portions of the river had the highest density of canoes and boat houses in the country, use declined significantly as pollution levels rose. The mission of CRWA is to promote and protect the health, beauty, and public enjoyment of the Charles River and its tributaries. In its earliest days, CRWA strove to clean up the Charles River through advocacy. To achieve a better understanding of the state of the river and to drive governmental actions involving the river, CRWA broadened its efforts into science and watershed management over the past ten years.
CRWA initiated the Integrated Monitoring, Modeling and Management (IM3) project in 1994 to provide the first comprehensive study of the watershed (Figure 2). IM3 includes three major components: water quality monitoring, surface water and groundwater hydrologic modeling, and watershed management plan development. Water quality monitoring began in 1995. Parameters include fecal coliform bacteria, Enterococcus, total suspended solids, biochemical oxygen demand, temperature, pH, total phosphorus, orthophosphate, ammonia, nitrite/nitrate, total Kjeldahl nitrogen, total nitrogen, chlorophyll a, and phaeophytin. While other organizations (including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [EPA], Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection [DEP] and Massachusetts Water Resources Authority [MWRA]) collect data periodically within the Charles River watershed, no other group monitors the entire river on a frequent basis.
The fecal coliform bacteria data developed under IM3 have been used to track progress toward achieving swimmable and boatable conditions in the Charles River. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts uses fecal coliform bacteria as a water quality indicator for primary- and secondary-contact recreation. To meet swimming (i.e., primary-contact recreation) standards, a representative number of samples must not have a geometric mean concentration exceeding 200 organisms/100 ml, nor shall more than 10 percent of the samples exceed 400 organisms/100 ml. To meet boating (i.e., secondary-contact recreation) standards, a representative number of samples must not have a geometric mean concentration exceeding 1,000 organisms/100 ml, nor shall more than 10 percent of the samples exceed 2,000 organisms/100 ml.
As various groups began receiving and reviewing CRWAs water quality data, several individuals and organizations requested more complete and timely water quality data in the Basin, one of the most heavily used water bodies in the country (Figure 3). EPA Headquarters under the EMPACT (Environmental Monitoring for Public Access and Community Tracking) program and Metropolitan District Commission each awarded a grant to CRWA to develop a water quality monitoring and public notification project for the Basin. Samples are collected and analyzed for fecal coliform bacteria and for Enterococcus. In addition to daily monitoring, the objectives of the EMPACT flagging program are to raise public awareness of water quality in the Charles through timely notification using a variety of media, and to involve the public, including the boating community, in river quality monitoring and reporting.
CRWA began developing a simple web site in 1996, as web sites became more prevalent. The earliest pages included a home page, with general information on CRWAs activities, and limited water quality data. CRWA received funding for the EMPACT project in 1998, and contracted a consultant to overhaul the web site because the project required daily updating of Basin water quality information. In addition to new pages for the EMPACT project, the purpose of the upgrade was to create a more informative and more functional site and to allow CRWA to update the site with greater ease. Following the improvements, CRWA staff began maintaining the site, adding various text documents and graphical images. Today, CRWAs web site provides a wide range of information to a variety of audiences.
CRWA uses Microsoft FrontPage98®, a user-friendly management tool that requires no HTML programming language, for design and in-house maintenance. FrontPage98 facilitates inserting documents from Microsoft Word® and Microsoft Excel® and images from ArcView®. Other FrontPage features include the following:
CRWAs web site (www.crwa.org) contains a home page (Figure 4) that provides access to the various individual pages. The page includes six shortcut buttons and text hotspots and is arranged with the most recent features first. The About CRWA button links to a page summarizing CRWAs work in environmental management, advocacy, research, education, and enjoyment. Site visitors can find out more about volunteer opportunities through the Volunteer button, which brings up a listing of areas in which volunteers are needed, such as the IM3 monitoring program (Figure 5). CRWA publishes its newsletter, the Streamer, two to three times a year and distributes it to members. Anyone, however, may view current and past newsletter articles online, by retrieving the table of contents (Figure 6) and clicking on the hypertext link for the article of interest.
Links allow site visitors to explore threads of interest through many web sites. CRWA's site contains links to many other relevant web sites, ranging from the federal government to individual boat houses. For example, site visitors can reach EPAs home page (www.epa.gov) as well as Region 1s home page (www.epa.gov/region01). Region 1 maintains its own Charles River web page (www.epa.gov/region01/charles), shown in Figure 7, that lists ongoing activities by EPA and other organizations. CRWAs site also links with EPAs Surf Your Watershed page (www.epa.gov/surf2). The latter two sites link back to CRWAs web site. At the state level, the web site links with DEP, and the state Riverways Program. The site also maintains links with water and sewer providers, such as MWRA and the Boston Water and Sewer Commission (BWSC). Links to other environmental organizations, active within the watershed as well as throughout Massachusetts, allow site visitors to find out about other related groups.
The web site is ideal for distributing information on current events which was distributed only through the periodic newsletter to the membership. Now information is posted on the web site and maintained more frequently than previously possible. For example, river discharge set record low flows in May and June 1999, and CRWA publicized the plight of the river as well as groundwater resources through several media outletspress releases, radio, editorials, newspaper articles and newsletter articles. These outlets require concise, focused communication with little room for detail. However, many individuals wanted to know what they could do specifically. In response, CRWA published a list of Ten Things You Can Do to Conserve Water Resources (Figure 8) that summarized suggestions provided by telephone. The web site allows CRWA to describe appropriate courses of action in sufficient detail without demanding significant staff resources.
Downloadable registration forms for events also save staff time. For example, CRWA hosted a conference on the upcoming NPDES Phase II stormwater regulations for municipalities and businesses to educate groups and provide an opportunity to hear EPAs perspective. While many groups received brochures through the mail, others heard through associates. Interested parties could obtain a copy of the registration form through the web site3, which reduces mailing costs.
CRWA hosts the Run of the Charles Canoe and Kayak Race in April each year. The 1999 race attracted over 1,200 paddlers, ranging from professional 24-mile marathon canoers to six-mile racers. While results are posted on race day, many participants contact CRWA afterwards for the official results. Referring callers to the web site has two benefits. First, web publishing relieves staff from searching through race results for specific entries, which requires significant time. Second, site visitors can see their teams listed and can save results.
Results from the two major water quality monitoring programs conducted by CRWA are accessible through hypertext links on the CRWA home page. As described further below, users can quickly view water quality information in tabular or graphical form.
CRWA and its volunteers monitor 37 stations along the entire 80-mile length of the Charles River, as well as several tributaries (Figure 9). To date, the program has produced over 5,000 results for 14 parameters, which are stored in viewable tables and Microsoft Excel® spreadsheets. The same information may now be downloaded from the web site (Figure 10) in tabular form from the monthly water quality table of contents page using a text hyperlink, as shown in Figure 11.
Fecal coliform results are the most frequently used data on the web site. Users can view the historical data set from 1995 through 1998, or a table of 1999 monthly results to date. Visitors can also access a subset of the information from the watershed map of IM3 locations by clicking on the monitoring site identification, where a hotspot has been created to link to other files. While the tables are appropriate for groups wishing to further analyze the data, the tables do not quickly convey the state of the Charles River.
CRWA presents fecal coliform data as a series of monthly GIS maps, where river reaches are color coded by concentration. Blue river reaches had a fecal coliform concentration that met the numeric value for swimming (200 organisms per 100 ml). Yellow reaches exceeded the swimming standard but met the boating standard (1,000 organisms per 100 ml). Red river reaches exceeded the boating standard. Users can click on the month of interest to view the graphic, with which the viewer can quickly evaluate site-specific and watershed-wide bacteria levels. The maps are created in ArcView® and exported as .jpg files. Figure 12 shows the September 1999 map, accessible through a hyperlink in the water quality table of contents page.
From spring through late fall, the Charles River Basin, a ten mile stretch of river extending from Watertown Dam downstream to the New Charles River Dam in Boston, becomes one of Massachusetts most heavily used and valuable natural resources (Figure 13). The water is used for recreational and competitive rowing, sailing, canoeing, and kayaking; for windsurfing, fishing, powerboating and sightseeing. The parklands along both of its shores comprise a linear parkway that is justifiably famous for its beauty, public accessibility and enormous multiple recreational uses.
In general, the water quality in the Basin is fairly good in dry weather or when less than 0.1 inches of rain falls within 72 hours of sampling. However, when greater than 0.1 inches of precipitation falls within 72 hours of sampling, water quality is poor. While a few areas may violate the state bacteria levels set for safe boating in dry weather, most portions of the Basin do meet the boating standard. Some even meet the standard set for swimming. During rain events, however, stormwater runoff, combined sewer overflows (CSOs) and failing sewer infrastructure cause bacteria and other pollutants to pour into the river. Water quality in the Basin deteriorates and no longer meets the standards set for boating.
In spite of the information and understanding developed about water quality conditions over the past years by CRWA, EPA, DEP, and MWRA, there remains a tremendous gap in knowledge, especially for the public, about the actual water quality conditions in the Basin on any given day. People who are boating or windsurfing often are unaware whether the water they are in meets the state water quality standards for swimming or boating. Recent policy debates and public hearings about clean up of CSOs and stormwater have all made clear one point of consensus: the public wants and needs to have better information about water quality conditions in the Basin.
Each weekday from May through October, the period of highest recreational use, CRWA collects and analyzes river samples at several locations, as shown in Figure 13. Based on the previous day's bacteria results, antecedent rainfall, and/or combined sewer overflow (CSO) activation, CRWA instructs boat houses to fly color-coded flags to signify the river's health4. A blue flag (Figure 14) signals conditions in the river are likely to meet state boating standards while a red flag indicates the river is likely to exceed state boating standards and pose potential health risks to users.
CRWA updates the web pages by noon each day to reflect the latest fecal coliform results and flag colors at each site. As shown in Figures 13 and 15, EMPACT web pages include a map of the flagging locations, historical data tables since 1998 and an explanation of water quality tests and boating standards. By disseminating up-to-date information on the web, the public can make informed, educated decisions about whether or not to use the river even before traveling to boating or other recreational locations. Two public boating centers, Community Boating and Charles River Canoe and Kayak, access the updated information from the web at noon each day to establish a protocol for river use. On red flag days, Community Boating posts boating advisories and/or closes certain programs (i.e., youth sailing or windsurfing) while Charles River Canoe and Kayak shuts down entirely. These two centers chose to protect their constituency from potential health risks and better educate them on water quality.
CRWAs web site serves many purposes, but underlying each purpose is the need to communicate information to a wide audience. The web site clearly presents a variety of text and graphical material accessible any time of the day from any computer with Internet access.
A wide range of visitors use the site. The number of hits increased substantially following the initiation of the EMPACT program, indicating that real-time water quality information is highly valuable to the general public. In July 1999, the site received 23,207 hits from 1,652 unique hosts. The greatest number of daily hits occurs on Mondays or the day following long weekends. The pages that are most visited are the description of CRWAs activities, information on volunteering, the EMPACT flagging program, and the monthly water quality data. Table 1 and Figure 16 summarizes site usage by user domain.
Site Usage for www.crwa.org (July 1999)
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Specific users represent a wide range of educational institutions (primarily in the Boston area), commercial Internet providers, private corporations, and government groups.
The web site has produced several benefits to outreach, education, and advocacy:
CRWA intends to contract with an outside consultant for much of the web site maintenance and creation of additional web pages, as staff resources are constrained by other projects. However, staff will maintain an active role in site development and will continue to update portions of the site internally. CRWA will continue to expand the web site as the clearinghouse of information relevant to the Charles River. The site will also be improved in its navigation and organization to enhance visitors ability to browse the site with fluidity. The ultimate objectives are to optimize the Internet as an effective and efficient education tool for the watershed and to advertise CRWAs name and efforts in hopes of building membership.
The EMPACT/flagging program was funded by grants from EPA and the Metropolitan District Commission.
The IM3 project was funded by grants received from MWRA, EPA, Natural Resources Conservation Service, DEP, BWSC, and Consolidated Rail Corporation.
1. Consultant, formerly with the Charles River Watershed Association, 2391 Commonwealth Avenue, Auburndale, MA 02466, 617-965-5975, 617-332-7465 (fax), firstname.lastname@example.org
2. CRWA, email@example.com
3. The web site does not have consumer security protection due to high maintenance costs; therefore, billing is handled through the mail only and not online.
4. Fecal coliform bacteria tests require a 24-hour incubation period, and CRWA must forecast the water quality based on the previous day's bacteria concentration, antecedent precipitation, and combined sewer overflow activation. Statistical analyses of 1997 and 1998 data were used to develop flag color protocols at individual boat houses for the 1999 program. Protocols will be reviewed and revised as needed following the 1999 season.
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