Watershed Management: Better Coordination of Data Collection Efforts Needed to Support Key Decisions

GAO-04-382 Published: Jun 07, 2004. Publicly Released: Jun 28, 2004.
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Reliable and complete data are needed to assess watersheds--areas that drain into a common body of water--and allocate limited cleanup resources. Historically, water officials have expressed concern about a lack of water data. At the same time, numerous organizations collect a variety of water data. To address a number of issues concerning the water data that various organization collect, the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, asked GAO to determine (1) the key entities that collect water data, the types of data they collect, how they store the data, and how entities can access the data; and (2) the extent that water quality and water quantity data collection efforts are coordinated.

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Matter for Congressional Consideration

Matter Status Comments
To enhance and clearly define authority for coordinating the collection of water data nationwide, Congress may wish to consider formally designating a lead organization (either an existing water data coordinating entity or one of the federal agencies with broad water data collection responsibilities) for this purpose. Among its responsibilities, the organization would: (1) support the development and continued operation of regional and state monitoring councils; (2) coordinate the development of clear guidance on metadata standards so that data users can integrate data from various sources; and (3) coordinate the development of an Internet-based clearinghouse to convey what entities are collecting what types of data. As part of this effort, the organization could advance the development of a geospatial Internet-based query tool (portal) that would allow users access to information about water data available within a given watershed.
Closed – Implemented
The Water Resources Development Act of 2007, enacted on November 9, 2007, provided, among other things, that the Secretary of the Army carry out a program to provide public access to water resources and water quality data related to resource project development. In doing so, the Act specifies that "To the maximum extent practicable, in carrying out activities under this section, the Secretary shall develop partnerships, including cooperative agreements, with State, tribal, and local governments and other Federal agencies."

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