Environmental Monitoring Gets a MakeoverJanuary 28, 2022
Research, innovation and technology are the driving forces behind our actions to deliver quantifiable positive outcomes for a river. One technology we and our partners use is the StreamBank® Monitoring App to conduct long-term project monitoring to ensure that a restoration project site is on-track to achieve its environmental benefits. The StreamBank Monitoring App was introduced in 2012 on mobile tablets. This year the app got some major upgrades to keep it fresh and spry. We talked to Sharon Gordon, TFT product manager and a key contributor in bringing this app to life.
What problem is the StreamBank Monitoring App solving?
The StreamBank Monitoring App helps staff who are in remote locations to collect observations of conservation actions, which are actions that are restoring a site to healthy and resilient conditions. With the app, we track our on-the-ground work, sort the data, review it, and report it out to project partners. For example, a primary function of the app is photo points. Photo points document what our sites look like before implementation and what the sites look like for years after implementation has occurred.
Who are the users of this app?
Staff ecologists and botanists who visit sites for preparation; project managers who track resources, schedules and milestones for the site; program administrators who track multiple sites in aggregate to confirm programs are meeting their intended environmental objectives; and local contractors who maintain the sites.
For many of our conservation projects, in addition to contracting with local companies such as conservation districts or landscapers, we also hire seasonal staff who learn how to use the app. We can increase the monitoring capability of conservation projects and create jobs. Reports from the app are shared with partners and stakeholders who have an interest in a particular regional project, such as funders, local governments, and environmental coalitions.
Besides the app, can you describe other tools in The Freshwater Trust’s toolbox?
StreamBank Monitoring comes at the end of a project workflow. However, there’s a lot of work that happens beforehand to get us ready for implementation. First, BasinScout® helps us assess the environmental needs of the whole area, such as a basin or a watershed. It helps us model which sites within the area could feasibly apply which actions to provide the best environmental improvements. Project managers use these analyses to sketch out a program.
To begin building the program, we use our StreamBank Administrative Tool, which is project management software. StreamBank Admin sets up the conservation program and its constituent projects, budgets, contacts, resourcing and supply chain, compliance standards and protocols, engineering designs and maps, and permits. It’s an administrative powerhouse – StreamBank Admin lets us collate all this admin stuff in one place and then move from this support work to the field work.
A linked set of mobile apps helps us collect tons of pre-implementation info at the project sites. From the beginning, we can record info about the suitability of the site: what are the challenges of the terrain, are there invasive species to remove, are there cattle that could trample through the area, could there be erosion issues, will there be seasonal flooding that will help irrigate the plantings, etc.? All these data further inform the program implementation process.
After implementation, StreamBank Monitoring is great for collecting maintenance and monitoring data, such as: plant size and health, large wood placements, bank erosion, and pebble counts.
StreamBank Monitoring can be used offline in remote locations. Its interface has big buttons and compensates for sun glare on the screen. The workflow steps are structured for walking through a site.
How flexible are these tools?
All these tools are custom designed by TFT. We also create additional apps in third-party software platforms to give us greater flexibility. When needed, we can create short field surveys specific to one or two projects using an open-source app such as Fulcrum. The StreamBank Admin database integrates all the data from the variety of mobile apps we use.
What’s new in the app?
We collected a lot of great feedback from users to improve their user experience. With the upgrade, users can schedule future events, such as site visits, from the office and then easily open the event when they are in the field. We’ve improved the syncing between the app on the tablet and the main database – users can download just the data they need for a site visit for better performance and faster processing time.
Integration is the key improvement. StreamBank Monitoring data is integrated into the StreamBank Admin database. Create a project in StreamBank Admin and it shows up in StreamBank Monitoring. No duplicate work in two databases. We’ve linked all activity that happens in the field, and it’s now easily reported on in the office. An activity feed shows you all actions that are happening across all the tools.
What’s your favorite part of the app?
Photo point monitoring is my favorite. This feature aligns current photos of a site with previous years’ photos. Users can see how much the riparian sites have grown and are becoming strong and healthy. The app uses a grid in the camera to line up landscape features and latitude and longitude to pinpoint the exact location from which to shoot photos in multiple directions.
Who helped you build this app?
We have a great partnership with PNDLM (pronounced pendulum), a Portland-based software development and digital products consultancy. Our long-term collaboration with them means they have become experts on our sector of environmental conservation and help us build creative and custom solutions.
Some of our largest clients in Oregon and Idaho have also helped us define features for the app and performed real-world testing.
Where is the most interesting location that data has been collected?
Our field staff have been all over the place. Often, they encounter wildlife such as coyotes, beavers, snakes, bobcats, elk and bears (oh my!). And the best part of any location is when they are close to Chinook splashing up the shallows in the river.
What’s the best comment you’ve received from a user of the app?
“Wow, this is slick!”
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