One of the Environment Agency’s many roles is to ensure that bathing waters in England have good water quality. Bathing Waters are designated beaches (or inland swimming spots) assessed by the Environment Agency in line with the European Bathing Water Directive.
The Environment Agency samples water at designated points weekly, during the bathing water season (May to September). The Environment Agency had previously focused on meeting legal requirements and not the needs of users. Data was published through many disconnected routes where information about the bathing waters (profiles) was only available in pdf form and updated rarely.
The Environment Agency was beginning its Open Data journey and wanted to meet an open data ambition and improve the user experience. They approached us initially, to help build a pilot service that used linked data to get information out in a timely, reliable and reusable way.
Client: Environment Agency and National Resources Wales
Our Role: Consultancy, data modelling, data publishing, app development
Develop a flexible ecosystem around bathing water sample data (and related datasets), publish the data in a timely way and help the public to access relevant information
The Environment Agency monitors and reports on bathing water quality at 415 beaches and other bathing waters in England. From May to September, waters samples are taken on a weekly basis and a picture of bathing water quality is built up. Sampling visits at each location result in two measurements of bacterial concentration that are determined in laboratory analysis.
At the end of the season an annual assessment based upon statistical processing of the samples is used to classify each bathing water and produce the official statistic. Under the Bathing Water Directive possible values range from excellent to poor.
Starting in 2010, we developed a proof-of-concept service to convert the water quality data to linked data. This included an initial data visualisation as a web application. This phase of project was important for building support for the approach among data users and internal Environment Agency staff.
Following the successful pilot phase, we developed the web application through an iterative improvement. Initially this was to better show the data and allow non-specialist users to understand the water quality information. The data model was extended to include a major new information source: the bathing water profile – which gives detailed information about the site
Critically this required little or no modification to the existing data store or API.
More iterations have added extra data and features in response to user needs. For example:
- the service added abnormal situation alerting
- daily pollution-risk forecasts and
- embeddable web widgets
- and had to cope with the separation of Welsh bathing water data in 2014 when Natural Resources Wales became a separate organisation.
With all these extensions we extended the linked data model to encompass the required changes without a period of downtime.
The bathing water data site is as a cloud-based service, using our automation deployment and monitoring tools.
We also developed an interface to allow authorised users from the Environment Agency to update the data easily and quickly. In this way, we met a key performance goal of getting water quality information out to the public and to beach managers with the smallest delay.
A key need for the Environment Agency was to also support other users of the data. In particular this was to enable developers to incorporate the data within their own applications. We built the Environment Agency’s data explorer on a rich API that we documented to provide easy use by others. A simple widget was also created to help those wanting to incorporate the data into their own websites with minimal effort.
Each of the additional data sets have been integrated and cross-linked with other relevant entities. This has happened without requiring any database redesign or system downtime. All while being directly available on the web.
Using linked data to share information gives greater flexibility between data and the applications that use it. Data publishers and third parties can create applications that combine information from multiple providers.
For example: local bathing water information from the Environment Agency can be combined with information about other local amenities. This could include car parking and local accommodation to create a richer and more valuable experience for the end user.
The profiles application is now a primary channel for communicating pollution forecast to beach operators so that they can erect appropriate signage at a bathing water each morning.
At a strategic level we have helped the Environment Agency to build a deeper understanding of the potential of linked‐data in meeting their vision to “create a better place”. We provide ongoing support and maintenance for the deployed solution as a managed service.
Linked data has enabled the Environment Agency (EA) and Natural Resources Wales (NRW) to extend the reach of their data. The development of this service over the six year period has shown how linked data enables us to incrementally extend and enrich an information system. Highlighting how we can flexibly adapt to changing needs without needing to start over and minimising costs.
One of the Environment Agency’s many roles is to ensure that bathing waters in England have good water quality. Though use of linked data we have developed a flexible ecosystem around bathing water sample data (and related datasets), published the data in a timely way and helped the public to access relevant information.
Epimorphics have been working closely with us as an agile supplier, helping us to deliver our open data commitments and vision of changing the way that we provide information on the environment. As a result, our data is more open, richer, and better able to support innovative reuse.
Tom Guilbert, Evidence Manager, Environment Agency