IT projects are not always thought of as solutions to improve air quality, but through a California grant program, IT projects are helping clear the air — literally.

The Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District Board last week awarded Nevada County, Calif., located in the Northern California foothills, more than $100,000 in grant funding to put toward three IT projects that will reduce air pollution in the county.

“We have horrible air pollution. You’d think we’d have these beautiful blue skies, but we get all the ozone from Sacramento and the Bay Area,” said Steve Monaghan, the county’s CIO. “Every car in Nevada County could be parked and never used again and it wouldn’t clean our air.”

The AB 2766 grant is funded through a California Department of Motor Vehicles surcharge program. Through the grant funding process, local air management boards are allocated funds to distribute to county agencies that have the top proposals for projects that will reduce air pollution. So far, Nevada County has been awarded air quality grant funding every year since 2001, Monaghan said.

In January 2012, the county’s Community Development Agency and Information and General Services Department will receive $17,700 to continue scanning and digitizing building records. The project, which began nearly eight years ago, has qualified for the grant funding each year since it started.

The project involves scanning a backlog of hundreds of thousands of building records to be made accessible in digitized form through the county’s website. Scanning the backlog is almost complete, and as new records are created, they will be digitized.

The county library will receive $27,500 to expand its digital book collection so patrons won’t need to physically go to a library to obtain reading materials. Currently the county’s digital book collection is shared by 27 regional library jurisdictions, but through the grant funding, Nevada County’s library will purchase 1,000 additional digital and audio books for patrons to check out online.

Through a collaborative project between a number of departments — including Information and General Services, Public Health, Probation, Assessor and the Community Development Agency — $56,800 will be doled out to pilot mobile worker automation technologies for field workers. Monaghan said this project alone should see a 3-to-1 match of staff time invested in the project to the amount of grant funding invested in the project since the total project is about $170,000 in value.

In the past, Nevada County has had poor wireless Internet coverage, but improved 3G coverage will allow the county to increase the use of mobile devices in the field.

With the grant funding, the county will pilot mobile automation technologies so that field workers, such as probation officers and building inspectors, can sync information via a mobile device so they don’t have to make extra trips back to their office for the task. Mobile devices like iPads and Android tablets are being considered for the pilot project, Monaghan said.

IT Equals Cleaner Air?

But how do these IT projects improve air quality and reduce pollution? Monaghan said each of these projects will reduce vehicle traffic within the county, therefore reducing carbon dioxide emissions. Given that the county is composed of nearly 1,000 square miles, some citizens could avoid making 30- to 50-mile drives to county offices.

In addition: Access to digitized building records will reduce citizen traffic to county offices to request the information; access to digital books reduces traffic to the county’s five library branches; and the use of mobile devices for field workers will reduce many of the daily trips the workers make to offices to upload, submit or gather new information.

Sarah Rich, Staff Writer Sarah Rich  |  Staff Writer

In 2008, Sarah Rich graduated from California State University, Chico, where she majored in news-editorial journalism and minored in sociology. Since 2010, Sarah has written for Government Technology magazine and covers a spectrum of public-sector IT topics, including cloud computing, transparency, broadband, and other innovative projects and trends. She currently lives in Sacramento, Calif.