Liberating Water Data – Guest Post by Alex Joseph – WEHUB

I met Alex at the Cybera Summit at the Banff Centre in October and that is where I was  introduced to the WEHUB. There are many interesting ways to do open data, science and to use the cloud to do so.  I invited Alex to prepare the following guest post about how WEHUB  does it.

Water and Environmental Hub…aggregating water data from across North America and making it available through an API


Alex Joseph, Executive Director – Water and Environmental Hub 

As anyone searching for water data from multiple sources knows…there isn’t really a Google for water data. 

A search for water data often results in a web page with a phone number to call someone, or an anonymous info request form. The water datasets that are available are often embedded as graphs in .pdf files obscuring the raw data or available in real time but embedded in html code on web pages. In the best cases, raw water data is available in large .zip files where you get the whole dataset or the opposite, you are faced with downloading hundreds of individual observation stations and then try and sew together hundreds of spreadsheet files, hoping that the columns all line up!

It gets even more time consuming and expensive when one tries to find water data that crosses political boundaries. Imagine the effort required to find data on the “Lake Winnipeg Watershed”? A search involves multiple provinces, states, 3 levels of government, multiple departments within those governments etc. etc. with a high probability that each of those datasets is in a different format.

Besides the challenges with access to water data, the few water datasets that are accessible on the web are unlikely to be provided through an API. Thus, those generous web developers that attended the World Bank sponsored Water Hackathons last week likely found that very little water data is available through an API allowing them to build dynamic water apps….

…but this is changing.

The Water and Environmental Hub (WEHUB) project is an open cloud-based web platform that aggregates, federates, and connects water data and information with users looking to search, discover, download, analyze, model and interpret water and environmental-based information. By combining water expertise with an open web development approach and an entrepreneurial foundation, the project hopes to spur economic diversification and benefit both public users and the private sector by improving the access to water data and tools for academia, government, industry, NGOs and the general public.

The WEHUB also enables organizations and users to develop customized applications on top of the WEHUB platform using our (RESTful) API, so that the data can be easily shared, integrated, leveraged, and customized.

The web platform is structured as a three-tiered system with a Client, Server and Database.  Each tier in the system is divided into components that address the catalogue, spatial and non-spatial data, and the social network requirements.  The catalogue acts as the index for the data and allows for easy search, download and upload of the data. The spatial data is shown on the client – as a map – making it easy for the user to visualize the data.  The social network allows for commenting, flagging and sharing of data. The WEHUB employs a Representational State Transfer (REST) software architecture. Open standards (e.g. OGC standards such as WMS, WFS, SOS, WaterML, GroundwaterML) are used whenever practical, efficient and economical to meet the needs of users.

In terms of geographical scope, the project began with Alberta and Western Canadian water data and information, a region to which the partners have relevant expertise and networks. As development successes are achieved, the project has extended across North America, with scalability a key design thrust.