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FCW : August 15, 2016
entirely on state data for its water reports. That’s why the agency’s effort to improve data collection has focused, in large part, on improving what hap- pens in the states. Melinda Dalton, a staff scientist at USGS, is one of the staffers who will wade through the work plans states have formulated to improve their some- times antiquated data systems. “Some states collect [data] digitally, but they only collect data for certain categories,” Dalton said. “No state is the perfect example of everything.” For the draft plans, states were asked to outline the status of their water-use programs, including the information they collect, the scale at which it is collected and the frequency of reporting. They also defined their priorities for improving their activi- ties, whether through better data col- lection or new methods of estimating water use. However, resources vary from state to state, according to Dalton. “There are some states that put a lot of resources toward water-use data collection,” she said. “It depends on how much water they have, how many people and what the competition over resources [is]. A lot of times they are limited by legislation: They collect some things, and they can’t collect others. You sometimes see a change in collection activities when water is becoming more scarce during times of drought.” Furthermore, some states lack the technological readiness to run a sophis- ticated water data program. “Some of them talked about how they are still collecting information on paper,” she said. “They’d like to do it electronically. We’d like to be able to report data as often as we can. That’s our long-term goal. We get our data from the states. We can’t report on use as often as we would like to. If states are still collecting data on paper, it cre- ates a timing issue.” Taking blockchain beyond bitcoin BY ZACH NOBLE To the degree that most people think about blockchain technology at all, it’s in conjunc- tion with the cryptocurrency bitcoin. But blockchain is also a versatile recordkeeping tool. In fact, the central libertarian mechanic of bitcoin — a distributed validation network with no central authority in charge — is not a necessary component of blockchain and might well be scrapped for government uses of the tool. In its bitcoin application, blockchain serves as a public, permanent ledger of transactions. Computers worldwide gener- ate the horsepower needed to validate and cryptographically hash transactions as they accumulate. Every 10 minutes or so, a new block gets added to the chain that every- body can see. Each block contains multiple transactions. “There’s no authority that issues them,” Deputy U.S. Chief Technology Officer Ed Felten said. “It’s just a thing.” A company or agency could use that concept as-is, or it could insert itself as the validating authority instead of the network. The U.S. Postal Service, for example, has floated the idea of creating and maintain- ing a “Postchain” platform for financial transfers. The potential uses of blockchain are legion. Financial institutions such as Gold- man Sachs are exploring using blockchain to track transactions. And Felten told the Information Security and Privacy Advisory Board in June that blockchain could enable complicated financial contracts to self- execute, removing the potential for human error to be introduced months or years after establishment. Travis Hall, a policy analyst at the Nation- al Telecommunications and Information Administration, said government agencies could use blockchain for a slew of documen- tation activities, such as keeping voter and health care records up-to-date, managing real estate titles or even tracking certificates and authentication for Internet ofThings devices for cybersecurity purposes. Because cryptography underpins the whole series of records, maintaining the security of cryptographic keys will be essential if governments plan to rely on blockchain, Felten said. Andrew Regenscheid, a mathematician at the National Institute of Standards and Technology, said future cryptographic solu- tions might offer multiparty digital signa- tures and privacy enhancements. “Ultimately, we’re not expecting to see a single model of the blockchain for every- one,” he added. “We think that this is going to be something that’s tailored for different applications.” n Texas: Collaborative data collection Texas used its federal water data funds to hire an outside consultant, Freese and Nichols, to interview stakeholders and develop a work plan to submit to USGS, said Kevin Kluge, manager of water use, projections and planning at the Texas Water Develop- ment Board (TWDB). The consultants floated the idea of integrating data to move the state closer to a single database for water data. Kluge said there were hurdles, however. “The alternative would be to inte- grate existing agencies and organiza- tions,” he added. “Even if we can’t put it all into one database, we can utilize information collaboratively.” He sees the future of water data as “collaborative data collection” rather than “big data.” “Agencies integrating their exist- ing data collection give us the larg- est chance of success in the future,” August 15, 2016 FCW.COM 17 0815fcw_014-024.indd 17 7/27/16 8:36 AM
July 30, 2016
August 30, 2016