The European Environment Agency is pleased with users’ responses to its water quality site and plans to expand environmental features in the coming months.
‘Water Watch’ makes a splash with EU bathers
As the warmer months approach, bathers across Europe will again be taking advantage of the European Environment Agency's Eye on Earth Water Watch service, designed to give citizens up-to-date information on the quality of the water they swim in.
Launched in July 2008 in conjunction with Microsoft, Water Watch gives users easy access via the Internet (see http://www.eyeonearth.eu) to information on water quality ratings drawn from 21,000 monitoring points at bathing sites in 27 European countries. Using Microsoft's Virtual Earth Mapping Technology, visitors to the site can zoom into a selected area of the online map of Europe or, alternatively, type a beach name into the search bar. They can view icons colour-coded green (compliant with EEA standards), yellow (not tested) or red (not compliant) to reflect the quality of the water. A separate set of colour-coded icons reflects user rankings of the waters.
The EEA has been pleased thus far with the initial response to Water Watch. Within the first few weeks of launch, the site saw as many as 200,000 visitors, according to Bert Jansen, Project Manager, at the EEA in Brussels. Activity was highest in the Netherlands, Greece and Italy. While that ebbed some after the summer months, the EEA anticipates further continued interest with the 2009 bathing season approaching.
So far the EEA has found little discrepancy between the perception of beach users and official agency ratings. But beachgoers have also been providing some interesting observations. “We've seen comments on some other related issues, such as people who spotted alien invasive species on the beach,” says Jansen.
“Our long-term vision is to offer a platform to get the public more involved in environmental issues.”
It is just this kind of on-the-scene evidence that the EEA wants to encourage. “Our long-term vision is to offer a platform to get the public more involved in environmental issues,” says Jansen. “Although this information may be subjective, if there is enough of it, that can provide an important new perspective to supplement official data on air, noise and water pollution.”
“We are keen to provide our technologies for solutions to process, manage, archive, query and publish environmental data, and a key focus of this and other projects is to enable and involve the community in doing this,” says Rob Bernard, Chief Enviromental Strategist at Microsoft.
As a next step, the EEA is looking at overlaying the site with an air quality index that measures three types of air pollutants. Other indicators will also be added such as soil and ozone measurements. The EEA also plans to provide information on how climate change is affecting Europe. By December, the agency plans to have 12 sites picked out on which it can deliver such information.