Story map spells success for Simon River Water Quality Project

July 10, 2017 Roma Rana

Story maps have a unique ability to weave in a variety of information—textual and visual, which make them an excellent solution for advocacy and outreach communications. Audrey Beaudoin-Arcand, project manager at Abrinord, explains how story maps can easily facilitate information about environment projects: their reason for being, impact and the collaborative efforts required to sustain them.

Endowed with one-fifth of the world’s fresh water resources, Canada has over two million lakes and rivers spread across 10 provinces and three territories. These water bodies and watersheds have a unique place in the lives of local communities. Not only do they form an integral part of the people’s history, economy and culture, but they also nurture a healthy ecosystem.

In Canada, more than 22 million people live in river basins and are impacted by watersheds. However, not many realize the importance of conserving freshwater resources and maintaining water quality. We often take our water resources for granted, not knowing that only 6.5 per cent of these freshwater resources is renewable. That is where organizations such as Abrinord come into the picture.

Abrinord is a leading watershed organization in Québec responsible for planning and coordinating integrated water management in the area around North River. It is also charged with developing the Water Master Plan for the watershed area involving 38 municipalities and one First Nation reserve in the Laurentians. Tasked with engaging stakeholders—municipalities, residents, indigenous communities and others—Abrinord decided to use Esri Story Maps to empower its communications with its committee as well as the public.

Never having visited the Laurentians before, I was intrigued by the Story Map Crowdsource app I saw on Abrinord’s site.

Crowdsourced story map – Simon River Water Quality Project

Audrey Beaudoin-Arcand, project manager at Abrinord, explains how story maps can easily facilitate information about environment projects: their reason for being, impact and the collaborative efforts required to sustain them. Story maps have a unique ability to weave in a variety of information—textual and visual, which make them an excellent solution for advocacy and outreach communications. Let’s find out how story maps have spelled success for Abrinord’s Simon River Basin Project.

Roma Rana: Why did you choose to work in the Simon River basin?

Audrey Beaudoin-Arcand: The Simon River basin has a beautiful landscape with vast expanses of wetlands that promote the eco-health of the watershed habitat. The basin is primarily known for nautical tourism. Residents as well as tourists engage in recreational activities—swimming, kayaking, fishing and more. Over the years, we noticed that the river water sampling had been exhibiting the presence of fecal coliform (FC) at certain times of the year, which necessitated steps to educate the public as well as take measures to control FC concentration in the water. And, when it came to public education and outreach, I knew that crowdsourced story mapping was the way to go.

RR: How can story maps play a role in water management?

ABA: When you’re working with land or water, which are the primary resources used by the local population, you can’t succeed without engaging the residents and planners. Stakeholder engagement is key to successful planning of water use and quality conservation. Our biggest challenge was how to communicate and educate our primary stakeholders and get their buy-in to embark on a specific action plan for the Simon River catchment area.

We decided to take an innovative approach to stakeholder communications. With ArcGIS, we found out that we could create a visually interactive tool to disseminate information in the form of story maps.  We wanted to do more than just provide information; we wanted to make a connection with the people who lived there—the primary beneficiaries of Simon River. We also wanted them to own the river and come forward to preserve water quality and natural habitat in the catchment area. Esri Story Maps is the best tool available to accomplish these goals. It’s particularly useful when we can get local citizens, who know best about their region, to contribute to the mapping process. Crowdsourcing helps improve the quality of information we collect and disseminate.

Story maps can also be used as a decision-making tool. They can help planners and stakeholders prioritize where to allocate money and resources by giving them a bird’s eye view of the situation. An example is this diagnostic portrait we created about Simon River.

A diagnostic portrait of Simon River created by Abrinord

RR: What were the challenges you faced?

ABA: To be honest, creating story maps was quite simple because I’ve been working with GIS software for quite some time. At Abrinord, we have used ArcGIS Pro and ArcGIS Online to create an interactive story map for North River. I also have some experience using GIS as a decision-making tool in natural resources management during my years doing a Master’s degree in geographical sciences. All these helped. Rendering the 3D map was a bit of a challenge as well as integrating several ArcGIS Online tools within the map narrative. I honed my skills further using the trial and error method and the Esri Online Support portal.

RR: Tell us about the results of producing this story map.

ABA: The committee members—our primary stakeholders—were very pleased to see the story map. It has played a significant role in mobilizing our community partners to take ownership of watershed issues and invest further in projects.

Also, since the story map is self-explanatory and interactive, we don’t need to spend our energy or resources trying to communicate about watershed issues to the stakeholders anymore. People like what they see and they are now better engaged with ‘their’ land and water.

RR: You spelled success for the Simon River project through this narrative map. What are your next steps?

ABA: We need to share this map with as many people in the catchment area as possible. We also want to invite people to add their geo-tagged photos around this beautiful river through the crowdsourced map. And finally, we want to bring together all stakeholders on a single story map platform to promote social responsibility and water sensitization. The more the residents interact with this map, the more they will talk about the river and own it, and the better they will contribute to preserving the water quality and health in the region. We want to create a virtual gathering place for all the people who care about water and related resources in this part of the Laurentians. Tourists, nature lovers, environment activists, local business owners and youth can play a role in preserving water quality through this interactive map.

RR: How can other organizations benefit from GIS, especially Esri technology, to generate awareness about sustainability issues?

ABA: These tools help disseminate information in a user-friendly, interactive and effective way. Environmental planners and managers can also benefit from the multidisciplinary team at Esri that develops geomatics tools. The kind of personalized service I received when creating this map was really helpful. I knew that I wasn’t dependent on any one person, but that there was an entire community of developers and GIS professionals at Esri that supported the creation and evolution of GIS products.

At Abrinord, this is just the beginning. I’m sure that we will continue using ArcGIS for many more interactive and collaborative story maps in future. That is what I suggest to other organizations working to protect natural resources in Canada: If we’re equipped with the right tools and technology, success will come much faster and be more sustainable.

About the Author

Roma Rana

Roma Rana is the Marketing Communications Specialist for Esri Canada. As an ardent social media enthusiast and a former TV producer, Roma believes “to communicate is to connect without barriers”. She loves how GIS can help people communicate and connect faster and better. Roma has a Master’s in French literature and a Bachelor’s in English with Honours, along with a certification in Marketing and Strategic Communications from the University of Toronto. In her free time, you’ll likely see her trekking, hiking, tweeting, partaking in cultural events or cooking vegetarian delicacies.

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