New Web site clears the water for students

Students don’t have to feel like they’re treading into uncharted waters when taking a trip to local waterways. In fact, before heading to a lake, pond or river, they can determine the water’s clarity, quality and types of bacteria that lurk under its glassy surface.

One USF center has combined Florida county water atlases to make it easier for anyone to find out information about the water in the lakes and rivers of Florida.

USF’s Florida Center for Community Design and Research (FCCDR) created a database, called OneAtlas, that includes Hillsborough, Volusia and Tallahassee-Leon County Water Atlas Web sites. It will eventually contain all Florida counties with a single Web site design, said Jim Griffin, associate in research for the FCCDR.

Individuals can use the water atlases, available at, to evaluate the safety of a water source, among other things, Griffin said. The new Web site design and database system make it easier for both users and the FCCDR.

“We’ve brought everything forward so the user has all the tools right in front of them,” said Water Atlas Content Manager Jodi Pracht. “It’s a one-stop shop that will answer 99 percent of questions about water.”

Each county has its own Web site full of maps, graphs and information about water quality, water depth, geography and historical information.

“The Water Atlas includes all water resource data that exists,” Griffin said.

The content on the Water Atlas Web site is available to anyone, Griffin said, and is suitable for use by parents concerned about their children’s safety, students of any discipline, companies and private firms, and scientists doing extensive research. The information on the Web site is even Sunshine State Standard-approved curriculum, so teachers and education students can use it extensively, he said.

Information on the Web site comes from databases of organizations and government agencies such as the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Pracht said.

Graduate student Emily Zupo, who studies geographic information science, is in charge of water quality updates for the Water Atlas database. She takes data sources from the state and monitors various Web sites to keep the database up-to-date.

Water samples are taken by volunteers in the community, researchers, the Environmental Protection Agency and county environmental protection commissions, she said, and are then used to update the Web site.

Students and FCCDR staff map areas with GPS devices. Students play a major role in the development and maintenance of the Water Atlas, Griffin said, from skills in Web design and database management to geography, environmental science and library science. Most students are graduate students but anyone with the necessary skills may get involved.

On the county Web sites, users can use interactive mapping tools to fully map an area — using different types of data — and print it out. They can also create graphs of data that date back to the ’70s in most cases, Pracht said.

The Florida Water Atlas began 11 years ago in Hillsborough County. In 1996, Griffin worked for Hillsborough County and was asked to create an atlas of lakes. He wasn’t sure how to go about making one but met two students at USF who were part of a special program for the University. The students — one being Shawn Landry, FCCDR Interim Director — had created a plant atlas for the county and knew how to map and create one for lakes.

Eleven years ago, it took more than a year to map one county, Griffin said. Increased technologies have shaved a few months off that process, however, and it now takes about one year to create a county atlas. Counties pay a basic cost — a maintenance fee of about $25,000 — so that their information may be constantly updated with new water sample data. Special add-ons, such as infrastructure or special lake mapping, cost about $25,000 more, he said.

Hillsborough County also produces data for an atlas system containing information about the water — reclaimed and otherwise — and sewer system.

“We’re the cutting edge in the state in regards to making that information available to commercial customers,” said Marcelino Diaz, utility coordinator for Hillsborough County Water Resources.

Hillsborough County contributes data to the Water Atlas and uses it as a place to store information.  They also run programs such as Adopt-A-Pond through the Web site.

“We use the data to make management decisions,” said John McGee, stormwater environmental programs coordinator for Hillsborough County.

The Florida Water Atlas is one of the most extensive resources of its kind, Pracht said.

“The Water Atlas is unique in that it’s not really found anywhere else in Florida,” Griffin said. “It is not found as detailed or extensive nationally.”

Other universities in Florida do not have such atlas programs. Florida State University did original work on the atlas, said Griffin, and published a book, Atlas of Florida. The University of Florida works closely with USF and provides the FCCDR with data. USF built the Florida Lakewatch Atlas from data UF provided.