The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency sought ERG’s support to help build a user-friendly, intuitive web application that would use the latest data from state, federal, tribal, local, and other sources to provide the public with information, in plain English, about the condition of U.S. waters at local, state, tribal, and national levels. The application would need to address the challenge of sourcing data from disparate data systems that contained unrelated information and whose data often could not easily be obtained by or integrated into other systems such as the proposed application. EPA wanted the application to be compatible with a range of devices and screen sizes and to be hosted in a scalable environment that could accommodate an increase in usage demands over time.
ERG collaborated with EPA and stakeholders throughout the project. For example, we used user-centered design techniques (including focus groups, design sessions, iterative design releases, questionnaires, and usability testing) to ensure that user needs, behaviors, and goals informed project design and development from start to finish. Following application design, ERG and EPA software developers then collaborated in using industry-standard coding languages, frameworks, and libraries to create the application from scratch.
As EPA and stakeholders identified data needed to support the application, they collaborated with owners of external data systems to gain a proper understanding of the data and had them expose the data via web services owned by the data system. This enabled the development team to ensure that data from each external system was accurately represented and facilitated integration of that source data with other data in the application. It also enabled the development team to use application programming interfaces, wherever feasible, to avoid replicating data from external data systems, which helped ensure that the application would be presenting the most current data from each source.
The final application, How’s My Waterway?, has a responsive design, enabling it to adapt to different screen sizes (e.g., mobile, desktop, kiosks). It was launched in 2020 on EPA cloud.gov, which provides access to elastic computing resources that enable the application to handle increases in usage demands. The application’s code is open source and publicly available on EPA's GitHub Organization.