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App of the Month: CLOCA Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program

It’s time for a geography lesson! What is a watershed? The simple definition of a watershed is an area of land where the water systems drain into a single, larger body of water. Watersheds are an integral part of our environment as their health impacts the populations that live on the watershed, including plants, animals and us! There are many factors that affect watershed health, which can make monitoring and evaluating it complicated. For December’s App of the Month, we take a look at how Central Lake Ontario Conservation used story maps to educate the public on their Integrated Watershed Monitoring Program.

Central Lake Ontario Conservation (CLOCA) is a community-based environmental organization that’s one of 36 conservation authorities responsible for watershed management across Ontario. They manage 24 watercourses, which drain an area of more than 639 square kilometres to Lake Ontario. Their watershed intersects the municipal boundaries of Pickering and Ajax to Clarington, and north – from Lake Ontario to the Oak Ridges Moraine. One of CLOCA’s initiatives is to share information about their Integrated Monitoring Program with the public in an engaging way.

Through the program, they have collected massive amounts of data about the watershed but were challenged with communicating that information to the public. That has changed since they started using Esri’s storytelling tools, Esri Story Maps.

“We were really looking to engage the public with an interactive, easy-to-use, educational product that could be hosted online and shared through social media,” said Annie Brough, GIS assistant at CLOCA.  We wanted to ‘tell the story’ of the Integrated Monitoring Program. Esri Story Maps and Web AppBuilder provided all of the capabilities we needed to create the product we were looking for.”

With Story Maps, CLOCA has been able to tell their story through multimedia, including text, videos, pictures and maps.

What I like about CLOCA’s story map is how it tells their story using various embeddable content; it includes not only rich media, such as videos and photos, but also incorporates several story maps and other apps.

They used the Story Map Series template to walk readers through the watershed ecosystems, which represent the health of the watershed. Each tab on the story map features a Story Map Journal that provides more detail about an ecosystem. This format creates a sequence that makes it easy for readers to follow the story of the watershed monitoring program.

It’s also a popular combination – the Story Map Series brings sequence to the story, while the Story Map Journal presents the various media that provide a rich experience for the audience.

And of course, you can’t explain monitoring without using a dashboard! One of the great attributes of this story map is the use of embedded dashboards created with Operations Dashboard for ArcGIS and Web AppBuilder for ArcGIS. If you’re looking to tell your story with dashboards, this blog post shows how you can customize URL parameters in Operations Dashboard to filter specific datasets on your dashboard.

With the dashboard embedded in the Story Map Journal, readers can explore the content as well as the data CLOCA has collected. Additionally, the use of hyperlinks and story map actions (which I explained in my previous blog post) contributes to the interactive experience. In this case, hyperlinks were added to explain terms which may be new to some readers.

CLOCA spent a lot of time and thought into choosing accessible symbology colours for ‘Good to Bad’ indicators as well as designing the application for different size platforms. As for lessons learned, Annie noted, “Choosing the most appropriate templates and widgets is key to your product’s success. Create your product with zero assumptions as to what your users will read and see. Not everyone using your application will have a decent Internet connection, so design accordingly, and design the best that you can.”

Since creating this story map, feedback has been very positive from local politicians, the public, government organizations and Conservation Authorities with a similar monitoring program.  

“This story map has allowed for outreach at a level we’ve not seen before at CLOCA. It has helped increase awareness for the watershed health and our monitoring program,” said Annie.

Expect to see more improvements to the story map as Annie and her team plan to update it with new data and a new tab that will allow users to explore changes in the watershed over time.


If you have a compelling public app developed with Esri technology, submit your app to be considered for next year’s App of the Month.