The goal of this innovative web-based tool is to help the public understand our natural waters and to be a one-stop data warehouse for water managers. Using Geographic Information Systems (GIS), active web pages and web-enabled database management systems, the Water Atlas websites are designed to provide citizens, scientists, resource managers, and educators with water quality, hydrologic and ecologic data. In addition, they provide information about local conservation efforts, volunteer and recreational opportunities, and a library of scientific and educational materials on water-resource issues.
What is the Water Atlas?
The Water Atlas program is a collection of websites created and administered by the Florida Center for Community Design and Research at the University of South Florida in Tampa. Originally created as an atlas of Hillsborough County lakes in 1997, it has expanded both geographically and functionally, now including eight county Atlases the Tampa Bay Estuary Atlas, and the Charlotte Harbor Estuary Atlas. In addition to lakes, it also contains water quality and hydrologic data for other types of waterbodies, including ponds, rivers/streams, bays, estuaries and inshore marine waters, as well as the watersheds that bind them together.
The mission of the program is to “provide a comprehensive information resource that helps citizens, scientists and resource managers make informed decisions concerning our vital water resources.” It does this by providing a spatially-organized view of water resource data. It has information from over 225 different data sets that is available to the public in multiple formats. It attempts to give that data meaning by providing “Learn More” articles that tell users how samples are collected and how to interpret them. Atlas users can display data in tabular form, graphically in tables and graphs, or their geographic context via interactive mapping applications. Researchers can download data for further analysis. Agencies can use the data to demonstrate compliance with federal and state stormwater regulations. Water resource managers can create water quality reports and maps to respond to constituents’ questions.
Public engagement is vital, giving citizens easy access to data amassed by government agencies using taxpayer funds. Citizens need not be mere consumers of Atlas content; volunteer monitors serve an essential role by submitting water quality samples, reporting on wildlife sightings, organizing group activities, reporting polluters, and sharing photos and history. Sponsoring organizations (counties, cities and regional agencies) use the Atlas for outreach, making available informational materials and posting notices on the Atlas events calendar. Recreational users can find information on waterbody location, size, depth, water quality, amenities, weather, and even fishing reports. A searchable Digital Library makes available environmental assessments, management plans, technical reports, research, historic information and links to other websites. Teachers can utilize the Curriculum component for exercises and explore links to external sites with water-related lesson plans and classroom projects.
Each Water Atlas is customizable by its sponsoring organization(s), and most contain resource pages for volunteer initiatives or other special-interest topics. These include Adopt-A-Pond, Macroinvertebrate Monitoring, Stormwater Education, Watershed Excursion, Habitat Restoration Mapping, Lake Management, Spring Resources, Stream Waterwatch, Seagrass Monitoring, Oral History, and Neighborhood Stewardship programs.