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As described in the WDFN user blog, we discovered three key user groups which we use to design our delivery of USGS water information. Here is a quick recap of the three user groups:

  • Operationalized Pull: These users pull data from multiple sources, including USGS API services, to use via custom dashboards and tools optimized for their location and needs. Operationalized Pull users, on average, use the most USGS water information, returning repeatedly for refreshed data to pull into their own systems.

  • Explore & Download: These users find nearby sites, exploring what data they collect. Users make ad-hoc or targeted queries to download, then alter the data as they need in their preferred tool (R, Excel, Python). Explore and Download users usually take their time exploring the data visually (maps, hydrographs, etc.) before finally downloading the data they find useful.

  • Check Status: These users perform routine checks of a few parameters for specific sites, primarily using the hydrographs. Check Status users are our largest user type by number of unique users. Each user generally looks at a handful of sites for the latest water conditions.

This post will discuss what we know about our Check Status users right now. As we research, we learn more about your needs, identifying patterns that can be used to update our understanding.

Who Are Check Status Users?

Maybe you! Check Status users are performing checks of a few parameters for specific sites of interest. The way these users approach our data is diverse, but we can broadly categorize them into three sub-groups:

  • General: These check status users are attracted to our site by water events or personal risk. They can be either technical or non-technical and are our largest set of users. What the users intend to learn from USGS data is diverse. Some users are interested in seeing if their roads or bridges are flooding, whereas others are determining whether they should go kayak or fish in their favorite river.

  • Download: These users download or pull the data or hydrograph to share the latest water conditions. These users rely on the latest USGS water data to keep their stakeholders updated.

  • Monitor: These users are water professionals who are responsible for monitoring complex water conditions for water systems such as dams, aquifers, and levees.

Each user is unique in their data use and workflow. These user stories help us keep you - our user - in mind as we design our services.

Sally, the Homeowner

Sally (she/her) has lived in her home with her husband, two children, and dog for six years. Her home is located near the Wapsipinicon River in Iowa. In that time, there have been several minor floods that came within inches of her house and one year ago there was a major flood which caused severe damage to the first floor of her property. At the time Sally, was not prepared for the flood and did not remove personal goods from the first floor, so she lost several family heirlooms. Sally is a busy mother with a full-time job and needs a simple and quick way to get lifesaving information about potential flooding. Sally learned of two USGS services that can help: WaterAlert & Monitoring Location Pages. First, Sally signed up to receive email alerts from Water Alert when the river by her property reaches 12 feet, a minor flood stage. She says “I feel safer having notifications set up through Water Alert. This warns me of potential flooding and gives me time to make sure my pets, kids, and valuables are safe.” Sally also checks the Wapsipinicon River monitoring location page when there has been a lot of recent rain. She can see the water level trends and she gets additional comfort because she can see how the rain is affecting the Wapsipinicon River.

Aram, the Journalist

Aram (him/his) has been with the Beaumont Enterprise newspaper for twenty years. Part of his job is reporting on dam releases due to rainfall or a planned event. While dam releases are necessary to keep water levels safe, they can cause sudden water increases in downstream areas and affect the safety of swimming, boating, or fishing along the river. Keeping his community informed and safe is an important part of his job, and he takes pride in providing the most up-to-date information. For his report, Aram regularly monitors several Next Generation monitoring location pages in his area. USGS provides the only source of continuous monitoring, providing updates every 15 minutes. In addition to looking at the most recent reports, Aram looks at gage height and discharge over a period of a week or more to help him understand when the next dam release most likely will occur. Bookmarking those sites to his phone allows him to quickly look at these trends and stay informed while he is out in the field reporting other stories. Aram says “Without access to USGS stream gages, I would not be able to report up-to-date news. My readers and social media followers want to know the minute I get important news.”

Margaret, the Water Manager

Margaret (they/their) has been the regional water manager in eastern Washington for two years. They are responsible for overseeing allocation of surface water for irrigation. Agriculture uses nearly 90% of the water in their area, mainly coming from rivers, lakes, and ponds. There is, however, always more demand for water than there is available water, so it is important that Margaret be able to closely monitor water levels and present the information to her stakeholders, including local agencies and state officials. Margaret relies on the National Water Dashboard and Next Generation monitoring location pages to monitor conditions in their area and nearby areas. They often pull the hydrographs from the monitoring location pages alongside the maps from National Water Dashboard to support their decisions for surface water allocation. Margaret says “Decisions in my job can be highly contested, so having highly trusted and credible data from USGS is very important.”

Each user story does not represent a real person. The stories reflect real user experiences and are based on our decades-long experience with our users.

How Do Check Status Users Interact with USGS Water Information?

Check Status users routinely check for a few parameters for specific sites. You might come to us with an idea of what locations are useful to you. Generally, users find USGS web sites by searching the web for general water terms like “Boise river water level,” where USGS sites tend to be on the first page of results. Users just like you use our tools to find the closest site(s) for which you want water conditions.

Check Status users come to USGS to gather information to make decisions according to their needs. Many of you have valid concerns about personal health and safety, so you seek more information about the current state of your local water resource. When Check Status users review the data, usually on a hydrograph, then they apply their own thresholds to the data to decide what action to take using something like WaterAlert, a simple subscription service we offer that notifies you when a threshold has been reached for locations of your choice. In many cases, our general check status users develop their thresholds through “guess and check” patterns where they note the value of the parameter in USGS and physically go out to the water resource to understand the associated water conditions. Imagine you’re standing at the water’s edge while looking at a Next Generation monitoring location page on your phone. Users concerned about flooding may watch the gage height parameter value for the closest river site and associate this value with the need to take action to protect themselves and their property. Our professional check status users similarly review applicable data using hydrographs and tables to understand the status of the hydrology.

“We have come to rely heavily on the gage to let us know when it is about to flood our bridge, how soon we must evacuate, and when it returns to below flood stage. All my staff have signed up for WaterAlert. Thank you for the good work you and this gage do!" - a user who emailed our help desk

Check Status users value “at-a-glance” data where it is clear and easy for you to understand the status of water conditions. Users repeatedly access USGS web sites due to reoccurring operational needs or specific water events. After finding sites that serve the water data they’re interested in, many users will bookmark the webpage in their browser for easier access the next time they need to look. (Did you know? When you bookmark a monitoring location page, it will save the type of parameter you selected - so if discharge was selected when you bookmarked the page, when you open the bookmark next, the page will load discharge for that site.)

Most Check Status users are not downloading or manipulating the data, except the small subset of Check Status and Download users that have stakeholders who also want to understand the water conditions.

Key USGS Products

Check Status users gravitate toward tools they can use to explore our data. Key USGS products used by these users include:

#EnGageWithUSGS

Connect with us! Follow us on Twitter and Instagram. We are learning more about Check Status users as we continue our work improving the developer experience with accessing USGS water data. If you want to share your own workflow and feedback on the process, email wdfn@usgs.gov, or if you’d be interested in participating in our user research process, please email wdfn_usabilitytesting@usgs.gov.

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Quotes in this blog post have been lightly edited for grammar and clarity only.