January 31, 2017

The Key is in your Pocket: Using smart phones to ensure clean and plentiful water for today and tomorrow

At the Pisces Foundation, we believe that new thinking, technologies, and ready-to-go solutions can provide us with safe water coming from every tap, farms that grow food without polluting waterways, cities strengthened by cleaner lakes and rivers, and enough water for both people and nature. One of those solutions is the smart phone already in the pockets of millions of Americans, who can make observations about water quality and share those with the touch of a button.

Chesapeake Commons, with support from the Pisces Foundation, and a growing network of watershed organizations have teamed up to publicly release Water Reporter, an online community that is unifying voluntary efforts to safeguard and improve our nation’s watersheds. Beginning as a simple means of crowdsourcing pollution reports from members of Potomac Riverkeeper Network, Water Reporter has evolved into a fast growing hub, connecting people with their experiences on the water and to a multi-sector network of local government agencies, river advocates, and restoration professionals who work to improve and protect water quality.

The Water Reporter mobile application has been described as the “Waze for Watersheds.” It is available for free on iPhone and Android . Users create an account and are instantly able to begin plotting the locations of their experiences on the river in roughly three steps, sometimes referred to as “point, click, and fix.” Water Reporter provides river enthusiasts with the ability to share reports with many other like-minded people as they float, hike, or adventure outside. Users can interact with a live feed of community activity and even connect with other volunteer watershed organizations. They are able to share the map of where they are in nature through other social media outlets, leveraging the power of larger networks such as Twitter and Facebook.

Water Reporter can be used to easily identify and fix water quality threats. The real magic is that users don’t need to know where to send the report. They simply share the issue on Water Reporter. Imagine you are floating on the Potomac River and witness a massive amount of floating trash that you want to see cleaned up. Simply take a photo of it with Water Reporter and share it with the community. Water Reporter sends the report to a growing network of restoration professionals who are “watching” the watershed and can respond to the problem. Since beta release last year, the community has generated more than 900 new reports from across the nation. Reports have resulted in restoration actions that range from farmers enrolling in cost share to fence cattle out of streams, riparian forest buffer plantings, and volunteer trash cleanups, and sharing images of pollution discharges from an industrial pipe.

Groups like Friends of Frederick County and Potomac Riverkeeper Network have used Water Reporter to document and expedite restoration action for more than 30 pollution reports in Maryland and Virginia. There is currently a cohort of 27 organizations enrolled as beta testers working on watershed improvement across the nation. Based on its current trajectory, Chesapeake Commons has set ambitious goals to bring Water Reporter to more than 300 organizations across the nation, all working to improve water quality, by the end of 2018.

In time, this platform will be on track to capture how and where people access the watersheds they love while creating a unified movement working together to protect our most precious resource. At the Pisces Foundation, this is one example of how we are supporting technology providers that empower people to protect freshwater resources in the U.S., ensuring we have safe and sufficient water for now and into the future.