Table 6-3. Water Quality Index and Visualization Project

Lead Agency                                                            OC Public Works

Technical Leads                                                      Grant Sharp, OC Public Works

Key Words: regional comparability, standardized reporting, water quality index


Assessments of water quality and aquatic ecosystem condition are the crucial part of many regulatory, management, and citizen monitoring programs and have provided information important in identifying and prioritizing problems and tracking trends and progress over time. However, many assessments use different indicators and/or different methods for combining indicators into overall measures of condition. While some progress has been made toward standardizing assessment approaches at regional scales, there is no widely applicable system in the southern California region (or at state and national scales) for integrating multiple assessments into overall measures of aquatic ecosystem health. Nor is there a readily accessible means of communicating assessment results to managers and the public in ways that highlight areas where risk or the need for protection is greatest risk and to help set priorities for management actions such as pollutant source reduction or natural resource restoration.

A number of initiatives have prioritized the development of aggregated water quality and aquatic ecosystem indices and related visualization tools, providing the basis for a coordinated effort to develop such tools for use in southern California. In September, 2014, a group of interested parties representing a number of MS4 programs, Regional Water Boards, and SCCWRP held a workshop to discuss the potential wider application of existing index and online data visualization tools being developed and/or applied separately by a number of programs in southern California and the Central Coast. The technical report from the workshop captured participants’ agreement on the value of a coordinated effort that would broaden the applicability of the approaches discussed at the workshop, with the goals of improving abilities to measure condition and track trends, reducing development costs, and enhancing regional assessments. Such a project would build on related efforts by the SMC and others to standardize monitoring designs and protocols, develop regional assessments, and improve the communication of results to a wider range of audiences.

Objectives and Products:

Discussion at the workshop identified two priority areas critical to accomplishing these goals: 1) defining the structure of one or more indices and how they would be applied in synthesizing and interpreting monitoring results, and 2) defining how online visualization tools could support these activities. The two goals of this project are thus to:

  • Develop a common set of water quality and aquatic ecosystem indices for southern California that would aggregate a number of separate condition indicators, and
  • Identify design criteria for data visualization and analysis tools

The workshop report identified a number of current efforts in the region and statewide that would be expected to provide starting points, alternative concepts, and useful input to the proposed effort. Of particular interest is the approach the California Central Coast Healthy Watersheds Project has taken to create a web-based data navigator and report card system that can be used for efficient aquatic assessments to guide resource management. The first of a twopart final report was released in November, 2015, describing the selection of aquatic life and human health thresholds, parameter scoring, methods to combine multiple parameters into health indices, and status and trends assessment at the site level for parameters and indices.

6.3.1    Project Related Publications

The published report which supports the development of the SMC’s Water Quality Index and Visualization project was prepared by SWAMP in November 2015.

Worcester, K.R.; Paradies, D.M.; Hunt, J.W.; California Central Coast Healthy Watersheds Project – Part 1: Reports Cards for Scoring Water Quality Data to Characterize Health and Change. Prepared for the California Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program. November 2015.

The report is available at the following website: