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Open Water Data

The Open Water Data project explores new ways to experience environmental data as a community to increase collective understanding and engagement in important civic conversations. It helps make open source governmental data visible and accessible to community members, advocacy groups, and local governments and turns a critical eye on how open data sets about the environment are shared with the public: Who do these datasets serve and who could they serve? We share all the resources for creating an Open Water Data installation so that other communities can hold similar events and help us all better understand environmental contamination.

Chemicals in the Creek

In the Chemicals in the Creek Open Water Data installation, we floated data lanterns onto the Chelsea River in Massachusetts to create a physical representation of Clean Water Act violations by local oil storage facilities. The Clean Water Act (CWA) is a federal law that limits how much and what kinds of harmful chemicals can be put into waterways. From 2013-2017, the seven oil storage facilities in this area violated their CWA permits 76 times. We represent each of these violations with a lantern with a logo from the facility that the violation came from and that is color coded based on the chemical in violation. We hope these lanterns will shed light on the problem of chemicals being released into the creek and begin a community conversation about improving industrial accountability.

Learn more and see pictures on the Open Water Data Website


The Chemicals in the Creek installation is led by Laura Perovich (MIT), Sara Wylie (Northeastern Universities Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute), and Roseann Bongiovanni (GreenRoots). The installation was developed with GreenRoots' ECO youth crew and Leilani Mroczkowski from 2017-2018. Contact us if you'd like to create an new Open Water Data installations in your city! Or join our mailing list to find out about future events!

Materials and Tutorials

All materials are provide here as open and reusable with credit. This includes:

  1. Sample R code for gathering Clean Water Act Data from the ECHO website
  2. Sample dataset of NPDES numeric violations from oil storage facilites in Chelsea, MA from 2013-2017
  3. Fabrication files: event brochures, event advertisements, year signs, custom seven-color LED board schematics, data lanterns parts lists
  4. Detailed supplemental information about our data processes, the Clean Water Act, Environmental Justice, and other related issues.

Tutorials for using these resourse and fabricating data lanterns are available on the Open Water Data Website

Code, sample data, LED board, and data lanterns parts lists by Laura Perovich. Event brochures, advertisements, and year signs by Shawn Sullivan with Sara Wylie and Laura Perovich. Supplemental information by Laura Perovich, Michael Still, and Sara Wylie. Translation by Gustavo Santiago-Reyes.

Thank you

Thanks to everyone who participated in the event and the community meeting, the Chelsea community, the Chelsea Police, Paddle Boston and the Boston University Cyber Law Clinic. Thanks to the undergraduate and graduate students who contributed to this project: Michael Still, Gustavo Santiago-Reyes, Jacqueline Chen, Maggie Zhang, Xavier Mojica, Emily Schachtele, Garance Malivel, and Shawn Sullivan. Thanks to the volunteers that assisted during the event: John Rao, Arushi Sood, Ed Hackett, Sharon Harlan, Olivia Ozkurt, Abbie Keane, Holly Coppes, Hanson Au, Lourdes Vera, Marc Jacobson, Dorian Stump, Angela Stewart, Laura Senier, Grace Poudrier, and Kaline Langley. Thanks to the event photographers and videographers: Rio Asch Phoenix, Will Campbell, Jimmy Day, and David Mussina.

With support from CRESSH, Elements Fellows Program, V. Michael Bove and Object-Based Media, the MIT Media Lab communications team, and RIELS.


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