State Action on Water Data Access and Availability

What’s the Issue?

Water data are collected by a variety of governmental agencies, at the local, state, and federal levels, and non-governmental organizations. These data are published on a variety of platforms. For example, one study counted at least fifteen separate sites that record and provide water data in Texas. These platforms, unless directed by legislation, present data in different formats and varying standards. The current water data landscape is fragmented and proves difficult for stakeholders to navigate.  

This proves a challenge for water management. Water data is required to make informed decisions and evidence-based policies that regulate water in and across states. Available and accessible water data can “enhance sustainability, improve management, and inform decision-making” across the local and state level. Policies that promote the consolidation of water data in a common and open platform ensure easier access of data. As many states grapple with the uncertainties of climate change and its effects on water resources, ensuring open and transparent data is vital for decision-makers and advocates.   

Despite the benefits of ensuring water data access and availability, there are challenges to achieving state policies that require an integrated water data sharing platform. Concerns include that agencies might perceive the loss of control over data as a loss of power, specifically regarding the communication of the available data. A 2011 study proposes the idea that agencies view data sets as a source of power, specifically as something used to trade with other agencies, and that “[o]pening [data] to the public poses a risk of diminishing agencies’ political power, autonomy, and potential value.” 

Examples of State Policy

  • California was the first state to implement a policy requiring the integration of water data across a single online platform. The Open and Transparent Water Data Act, or Assembly Bill 1775, required the integration of water and ecological data in an effort to increase data transparency and access. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR), the California Water Quality Monitoring Council (WQMC), the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB), and the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) collaborated on the creation of the water data platform. In addition, AB 1775 introduced a funding mechanism for its implementation, the Water Data Administration Fund.  
  • New Mexico was the second state to implement a policy requiring the integration of water data across a single online platform. The New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources (NMBGWM), the New Mexico Energy, Mineral, and Natural Resources Department (NMEMNRD), the New Mexico Environment Department (NMED), the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer (NMOSE), and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission (NMISC) are required to develop an “Integrated Water Data Service for New Mexico.”
  • Texas has understood the value of data in water resource management for some time. Since the Texas Water Planning Act of 1957 and Senate Bill 1, passed in 1997, the state has worked to develop state-level and regional water plans which require data collection. However, the state legislature did not act to develop a single water data sharing platform. In 2012, the Texas Water Development Board (TWDB) launched the Water Data for Texas which “provides the most comprehensive information available on Texas reservoirs”. In 2016, as a part of the 2017 State Water Plan, published the report online which provided “Texans more in-depth information about water planning than ever before”. While neither provides a one-stop integrated water data sharing platform, the TWDB is acting to ensure water data is more available and accessible.

Additional Resources