On World Water Day - Open Data for Water Resources

Lack of open data for researchers and activists is a key barrier against ensuring access to water and planning for sustainable management of water resources. In a collaboration between DataMeet and CIS, supported by Arghyam, we are exploring the early steps for making open data and tools to plan for water resources accessible to all. To celebrate the World Water Day 2018, we are sharing what we have been working on in the past few months - a paper on open data for water studies in India, and a web app to make open water data easily explorable and usable. Craig Dsouza led this collaboration, and authored this post.


Project Blog: Open Water Data for Integrated Water Science (External)

Open Water Data Paper - Datasets for Water Studies in India Blog - Summary: Read (External)

Open Water Data Paper - Datasets for Water Studies in India Blog - Full Paper: Read (PDF)

Open Water Data Web App: View (External)

Open Water Data Web App - Tech Stack: Read (External)

Open Water Data Web App - Precipitation Data: Read (External)

The 22nd of March is celebrated internationally as World Water Day. Water is so tightly intertwined in every aspect of our lives that one can only scratch the surface in understanding this resource. Besides directly giving us life, it is a key non-renewable shared resource that dictates whether and how societies can grow and prosper. It has shaped the way civilization arose - on riverbanks and coastal lands. Adequate water of good quality can make or break a child’s early growth. Water available at the right time in the monsoon could shape a family’s fortunes for an entire year.

Unfortunately given the development trajectory of the last century, we have struggled to strike a balance and use water in a sustainable manner. Far too many face the ill effects of this misuse. The challenge with water lies in its nature as a common pool resource, which means that it belongs to everyone. Water is for everyone to benefit from and conversely it is no individual’s responsibility to manage and to ensure its sustainability. While some laws and policies exist to ensure sustainable use of water its fluid (pun intended) and ephemeral nature make those laws very hard to enforce. No one knows for sure how much water lies under the ground and above the surface, we only have estimates. Moreover even these estimates lie in the hands of a few. The Government of India is by far the largest entity that collects data on water across the country. Management of this resource however requires that these data points and the capacity to monitor should be decentralized. The 73rd amendment recognises this by placing the authority to plan and implement local works such as watershed management and drinking water provision under the purview of Panchayats.

To address this shortcoming Datameet and CIS in collaboration have taken first steps with a project to ensure that data and tools to plan for water resources are accessible to all. The strategy within this project has been to seek alternative data sources for water, other than government data much of which still isn’t open data. Two alternatives that have emerged are remote sensing open data and crowdsourced community data. A paper put together by the team highlights the numerous sources available for datasets such as rainfall, soil moisture, groundwater levels, reservoir storages, river flows, and water demand including domestic and agricultural water. Besides the paper the team has also put together a first iteration of a web app which seeks to provide these datasets in an easy to use intuitive and interactive format to users in the area of water planning and management. The first dataset available here is CHIRPS: a high resolution daily rainfall dataset for the whole of India.

The plans for this project in the future include making available more datasets (crop maps and Evapotranspiration) and features to access them. In addition to this the goal is also to improve our understanding of the usability of remote sensing water data with efforts to calibrate it with ground observations. A key element of these plans is to develop these resources in collaboration with end users of the data so that the tools are developed with their concerns in mind. We welcome ideas, queries, feedback, and partnerships - do contact us at [email protected].