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Water Quality Data Elements
Water Quality
Data Element Lists

1. Chemistry, Microbiology

2. Population /Community Biological Assessments

3. Toxicological Analytes

4. Physical Habitat (Draft list begun Oct. 2006)

5. Tissue
6. Sediment
7. Biomarkers

The Water Quality Data Elements User Guide is now available in PDF format to download and print. download

Many different entities collect water quality monitoring data using different data reporting templates. However, drawing comparisons and discerning trends in water quality are difficult due not only to large natural variations in conditions but also to widely disparate assessment methodologies, data system incompatibilities, and inconsistent data documentation standards. These problems are found in both surface water and ground water studies. These barriers impede coordination of data collection efforts and the productive exchange of water quality data among monitoring entities. Recent reports by federal, state, and non-governmental organizations including the U.S. General Accounting Office, the Association of State and Interstate Water Pollution Control Administrators, and the Environmental Integrity Project, have highlighted these problems.

The Methods Board and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) have developed sets of data elements which they believe are the minimum elements necessary to facilitate the exchange of chemical, microbiological, population/community (ecological and bioassessment), and (eco)toxicological assessment data. These elements were approved by the Advisory Committee on Water Information (ACWI). The guide lists these data elements as modules in a framework that addresses who, where, when, why, and how data are collected. Several modules of elements are common to all types of water quality data (e.g., contact information, where samples are collected), while other modules contain somewhat different data elements depending on the type of analyte (e.g., how samples were collected, result type).

The data elements lists are not a set of required information; rather, they are recommended as a means to help data collectors more easily consider the most important WQDE needed to assess data comparability. Use of these data elements will help ensure that information collected and reported by various organizations will increase in value to other agencies and the public.

The Modular Approach

The modular approach allows the entire data element list to be divided into subsections (or modules) that can be developed independently as needed for different types of monitoring data (e.g., chemistry, field biological assessments). Some of the modules - contact (who), location (where), date (when), and objective (why) - are "universally" pertinent to all types of water quality monitoring data. Other modules—parameter sampled (what) and sample collection and analyses methods (how)—are often particular to the type of parameter being monitored and perhaps even the specific parameter.