HomePilots & Prototypes
Imagining the Klamath Dams Removal: A case study in using civic voice to bridge the gap between reality and policy (Pt. 3)
July 28, 2021
Written by
Text LinkText Link

This article is written to imagine a future in which an established and robust Civic Voice Platform, a tool for connecting local congressional districts to federal legislative lawmaking, is actively providing a streamlined and accessible method for engaging with community data. It is July 2028. 

“It’s clear that the salmon and trout populations are increasing in number, but unclear how quickly this will happen,” said Andy Sprague, a legislative aide from Jared Huffman’s office,  “It took a couple of years to see anadromous fish in the Upper Elwha River come back in any number after the Elwha and Glines Canyon dams were removed, we can definitely look at population outlooks for the Klamath but is hard to predict exactly, we all know every river is a little different.”

Andy is meeting with representatives from Oregon’s second district, Sloane Taylor-Wright, and California’s first district, Josie Kim, to discuss the repercussions of the removal of the four dams along the Klamath River, as the last, Iron Gate Dam, came down six months ago. They are legislative assistants, all with slightly different goals for their respective offices but a similar intention of delving into the data to understand shared circumstances stemming from their shared region.

Andy clicks the next slide on the deck: a line graph, inching upwards, representing compiled population counts, taken from snorkel surveys and radio telemetry data submitted by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the Salmon River Restoration Council.

“I mean, it all makes sense, as the health of the river improves, the health of the fish populations improve,” said Josie, clicking through to project the current readiness levels of the fish population and a map of blue-green algae levels, data submitted by the Klamath Basin Monitoring Program. “I’ve still got questions about how the changes in the river flow will affect the larger hydrological situation, we’ve got farmers calling our Auburn office weekly, asking questions, and providing feedback. I direct them to join us for our listening tours, submit input to the Civic Voice Platform, but it would be great to be able to provide some solutions in the way of data sometimes -- even if it is a small solution or new understanding.”

“I completely understand and sympathize, we’re going through a similar process in southern Oregon,” Sloane said, “Dam removal was the right step to improve the health of the ecosystem, to do right by the people, but there is still so much to do. Moving forward in the face of extended drought and heat, how do we manage the health of the river and the health of the people? Where are the opportunity points moving forward?”

The meeting was organized by the Office of Knowledge Management (OKM), a relatively new federal office that serves to preserve various data collection efforts by federal agencies, states, and independent civic tools, like the Civic Voice Platform (CVP). The Office also preserves data requested from and submitted by congressional offices, including internal research documents and communication. The data officers working at the OKM also work to bring together policymakers and staff at all levels of government and across state borders in order to review and consult data compiled and processed by the Office. This is the impetus that brought these staffers together today -- a data consultation on the Klamath’s health and the community’s response and needs. 

“The people have similar issues on their mind as they did when we started the process of dam removal,” Andy said, clicking to the next slide, “We have continuous community response data, and you can see that the word maps from 2021 are similar to word maps compiled from last month’s response -- there are just more people responding, providing input, showing up to these meetings and interacting online within the Civic Voice Platform. Everyone is affected, in a real way, nowadays.”

The Civic Voice Platform is one of many tools used by the OKM, designed as a public good that serves as an accountability mechanism within these data consultations, but also for policymaking more broadly. 

“We have heard lots of great feedback from local conservation orgs about the standardization of river-related environmental data stemming from the CVP,” said Sloane, “California and Oregon have not standardized their data collection, but the CVP works with the federal standards of data to systematize water data since the Data Standardization for Climate Bill passed a handful of years ago.”

Part of the OKM includes the support of the Federal CDO (Chief Data Officers) Council and the State CDO Network, whose members work to ensure the data’s usability and functionality, for the CVP and other tools used by OKM. 

“Okay, this is a long shot, but the mention of the Data Standardization for Climate Bill reminds me of some work being done down in Southern California...let me pull this up,” said Josie, “Celeste Cantú is doing interesting work with the Santa Ana Watershed, they developed one of the first regional data management frameworks for water systems back in 2022…could we pull her into a future OKM data consultation?”

“Connecting with Tom Ferguson at Imagine H2O might be fruitful as well… I think the key here might be to start connecting folks that are working with regional level frameworks, like us and Celeste, with folks working in emerging technologies, connecting them in the use of this data within the CVP,” said Andy. “Adaptation innovation has to be a next step here, and the CVP can support its adoption through connections with our communities and our Congressional offices.”

“We need to get the Office of Water Innovation at the California Water Commission in on this next meeting too, I think I’ve seen some inputs added from their side in the CVP already, maybe OKM can put time on their calendar to be part of our next data consultation,” said Sloane. “They’ve been great at connecting emerging water technologies with local government offices.”

“We all know the solution to the mega-drought isn’t another meeting, but it’s not not another meeting, right?” joked Josie, “I’ll get this idea back to OKM and my staff and it’ll be on the calendar soon, it would be exciting to get these groups in one room and interacting with some of the data from the Civic Voice Platform.” 

This is the third and last installment of Imagining the Klamath Dams Removal: A case study in using Civic Voice to bridge the gap between reality and policy. These future narrative vignettes aim to create a possible reality within a system that values and connects civic voice and environmental data within a Civic Voice Platform. Through the examination of both citizen and government users, it proves evident that data alone can rarely solve an issue, but increasing access and tailoring flow between the public and political leadership is an integral step in present and future solution-making. 

Image credit: Rita Robison (Adobe Stock)