Full disclosure: Years of water quality data now available

An extensive and detailed store of data collected by irrigation districts is now within easy reach

Information is power, and a new website is making more than a decade’s worth of water quality data available to anyone who wants it.

The Irrigation District Water Quality website is the creation of the Alberta Irrigation Districts Association, whose members have been participating in a project on water quality since 2006.

“The research objective at that time was basically to assess the quality of source water used for irrigation from food production perspective,” said Margo Redelback, executive director of the association (which recently changed its name from Alberta Irrigation Projects Association).

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This allowed them to assess any changes in water quality as it travels through irrigation infrastructure in the various irrigation districts. They were also able to examine if there were differences in water quality between different types of systems, such as open canals versus pipeline systems.

The information was valuable, and the data collection continued with outside funding through to 2015. A year later, the irrigation districts began fully funding the program themselves through the association.

The information was provided to irrigation districts and others who requested it, but it wasn’t readily available to everyone. The data allows the districts to be proactive in addressing potential concerns.

“It was a good opportunity for them to understand if there are any consistent water quality issues in their irrigation infrastructure,” said Redelback. “Based on that, they’re able to reach out to other stakeholders to develop potential projects that could address those water quality concerns to improve the water quality in those areas.”

Producers may find the tool useful when complying with sustainability initiatives coming into play in agriculture. CanadaGAP, a food safety program for companies that produce and process fruits and vegetables, is one example of such an initiative.

“It’s my understanding that a number of irrigation producers in our area regularly have to report to CanadaGAP, and water quality is one of those criteria,” Redelback said. “The data tool is online and accessible by those irrigators making it easy for them to look at where their operations are, grab that information from the specific site, and move forward in their reporting requirements.”

The website features a map showing irrigation district infrastructure and each of the sampling sites used for this project.

“If you click on any of those sites you get a picture of the site; a description of what the site is; which irrigation district it’s in; primary, secondary or return site; and whether or not that site is active,” said Redelback. “If you click on the get data button, it will allow you to download basically all of the information that’s been obtained for that site over the period of the time that it has been a sample site.”

Raw data both current and historical, from each site includes, for example, measurements of nutrients, chlorophyll A, pesticides, and E. coli.

In the water quality index tab, users can quickly view an overall rating from excellent to poor.

“Water quality index values are calculated using an Alberta Ministry of Environment program that compares site-specific water quality data to irrigation water quality guidelines,” said Redelback. “If you’re looking at the map, you can easily see that there’s a lot of blue, so that means that overall the water quality index is excellent.”

In areas where concerns show up, the website allows its users to quickly see what levels were off, and to see if it’s an ongoing problem or an isolated issue. Data is typically collected three to four times a year, usually at the end of each month from May through August.

“The important thing about water quality is it’s not a static thing,” said Redelback. “That’s where long-term data collection is so important when you’re considering water quality.”

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