LAWA’s new environmental monitoring website clears up water quality data

By Waiology 08/04/2014

By Maree Clark and Kati Doehring
The launch of LAWA (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa) last month is a significant milestone for our country’s environmental reporting. A web-based platform, LAWA displays state and trend information for more than 1100 freshwater monitoring sites throughout New Zealand in one place, and in an easy to understand format.

It’s the first time you can look at data for a site, catchment, region or the country in one place and in a standardised way. It’s unique in that it allows everyone to learn about the state of our rivers, independently whether you’re a school child, scientist or policy maker.

Making our science available to the public by communicating it in a jargon-free and easy-to-understand format is crucial. Everyone has the right to understand and know what’s going on in their waterways and what’s being done to make a change through our science and policy. Good information is key to good decision making and LAWA is a great tool to help communities understand what’s happening in their rivers and get more involved in caring for them.

The range of potential audiences, and the variance in their water science knowledge, was top of mind when building LAWA. We wanted to be able to cater for everyone as much as possible. To do this the site has the ability to ‘drill down’ from a general overview of water quality in New Zealand through the regional and catchment state and trend information, right down to site data. At the site level, those who want to can access the sample history for each water quality parameter or even download the raw data.

Another unique feature of LAWA is its desire for two-way communication by actively encouraging dialogue between LAWA and its users. Individuals or groups can post events and stories about projects happening around rivers near them or report river observations such as pollution incidents.

Building on the momentum from the launch of LAWA’s first module, river quality, we are continuing to develop LAWA into the preeminent source of information on our water resource. We’re seeking to strengthen the information available on freshwater by adding data on flow, macroinvertebrate communities, water allocation and lake quality.

We will also be adding a coastal module, providing credible and accessible data for one of the country’s most prized resources. This will communicate data on our oceans and estuaries both from an ecological and recreational perspective. There are significant benefits of presenting freshwater, estuarine and coastal ecosystem health in one place where the connections between these environments will be emphasized. In addition to consolidating the existing coastal and estuarine monitoring data, it is anticipated that LAWA will display the data generated from coastal monitoring buoys.

Maree Clark is a water quality scientist at Horizons Regional Council and Kati Doehring is a water quality scientist at Cawthron Institute.