Visualizing Water Quality in the Land of 10,000 Lakes

By Kathleen Goepferd 2013/11/13

Minnesota is one of the most naturally beautiful places I’ve ever been privileged to visit—but with a population of more than 5 million residents and an $11 B tourism industry, it won’t stay that way without continuous effort.

Sunset in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, Minnesota.

Enter the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency, founded in 1967 with the goal of working to protect and improve our environment and enhance human health. From cleaning spills and leaks to alerting the populace to air quality issues, the MPCA relies on data to help it manage pollution in Minnesota.

And the agency shares much of its data with the public, a standard that was in place in Minnesota long before the current trend for governmental transparency.

“By law, we have high standards for data accessibility—it is a priority to provide the information unless we are required by law to keep it private,” says Leslie Goldsmith, data analysis supervisor at Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA).

Answering questions—from the public and from politicians—is the primary job of the data analysis department. In 2007, after years of struggling to access data stored in disparate databases and analyze it using Excel, Goldsmith began looking for a better answer. She found Tableau 8.0.

The team has expanded its use of Tableau and upgraded with every new release. Today, all 900 employees of the MPCA are able to interact with Tableau visualizations for more data-driven decisions.

“A couple of hours in Tableau, and the response is prepped, ready for consumption. And it's connected to the data so I never have to do it again,” says Goldsmith. “We can produce stuff that can be used over and over,” she says. “It’s particularly helpful in high-demand areas.”

“Without Tableau, we would be working a whole lot harder to accomplish a whole lot less.”

Read the full case study.