Information Strategies Work Group - Information Infrastructure in Water Quality Monitoring

The Information Strategies Work Group of the National Water Quality Monitoring Council promotes goal-oriented monitoring by defining strategies for sample planning, data collection, data compilation and management, data assessment and interpretation, and information reporting. To assist in bringing the latest developments in information technology to bear upon improved monitoring design and operations, the Information Strategies Work Group, in collaboration with other Council Work Groups, held a special meeting to discuss ways to enhance water quality monitoring through more effective use of modern information technology.

The purpose of the discussion was to develop a sample of the following:

  1. Overview of information technology in water quality monitoring.
  2. Un-met needs in use of information technology in monitoring.
  3. Key contacts in the field of applying information technology in monitoring
  4. Expressions of interest in further Council work in IT.

Information provided in this summary will be periodically updated.

Contact Curtis Cude (cude.curtis@deq.state.or.us) for project contacts or to submit new material for this summary.

Information Infrastructure Projects in Water Quality Monitoring

The following is by no means an exhaustive list of information infrastructure projects. It represents a broad range of projects covering various parts of the monitoring framework.

Project Name Project Description URL
CA Natural Resource Inventory Documents environmental projects completed, including responsible parties and project locations. None
Colorado WQMC Shared Database Information The following list of recommended fields for any database that might be shared via a CWQMC website was assembled by the Database Management Committee and modified by the Monitoring Coordination Committee. This simplification of STORET and the NWQMC recommended fields is considered to be the MINIMUM amount of information to make the databases useable for comparisons among databases. These also improve the potential for addition to STORET. These fields focus on chemical data, and should be modified to accommodate biological data by the Aquatic Life Committee. This list does not specify the design of the database. The Database Management Committee feels strongly about importance of proper design of a relational database to hold these data, and will provide a design upon request from the Council. http://www.coloradowatershed.org/cwqmc/dbmanage/data_swap.htm

“DQO-PRO” is a series of programs with a user interface like a common calculator and it is accessed using Microsoft Windows. DQO-PRO provides answers for three objectives: (1) Determining the rate at which an event occurs, (2) Determining an estimate of an averge within a tolerable error, and (3) Determining the sampling grid necessary to detect “hot spots”.

DQO-PRO facilitates understanding the significance of DQOs by showing the relationships between numbers of samples and DQO parameters such as (1) confidence levels versus numbers of false positive or negative conclusions; (2) tolerable error versus analyte concentration, standard deviation, etc., and (3) confidence levels versus sampling area grid size. The user has only to type in his or her requirements and the calculator instantly provides the answers.

EMMA EMMA is an expert system (interactive software) for project managers, administrators, and others who use or procure laboratory services for environmental analyses. It is used to plan improved and cost-effective environmental monitoring projects. It is also a highly effective teaching aid for instructors and students and was funded in part by the National Science Foundation (NSF). EMMA's new innovative technology leads you through complex decisions to tailor your plans to meet specific project needs by considering the physical and chemical characteristics of the sampling site and target analytes, desired data quality, available budget, your objectives, and the consequences of making wrong decisions based on the data you will obtain. http://www.emma-expertsystem.com/

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains two data management systems containing water quality information for the nation's waters: the Legacy Data Center (LDC), and STORET. The LDC is a static, archived database and STORET is an operational system actively being populated with water quality data.

The LDC contains historical water quality data dating back to the early part of the 20th century and collected up to the end of 1998. STORET contains data collected beginning in 1999, along with older data that has been properly documented and migrated from the LDC. Both systems contain raw biological, chemical, and physical data on surface and ground water collected by federal, state and local agencies, Indian Tribes, volunteer groups, academics, and others. All 50 States, territories, and jurisdictions of the U.S. are represented in these systems.

Each sampling result in the LDC and in STORET is accompanied by information on where the sample was taken (latitude, longitude, state, county, Hydrologic Unit Code and a brief site identification), when the sample was gathered, the medium sampled (e.g., water, sediment, fish tissue), and the name of the organization that sponsored the monitoring. In addition, STORET contains information on why the data were gathered; sampling and analytical methods used; the laboratory used to analyze the samples; the quality control checks used when sampling, handling the samples, and analyzing the data; and the personnel responsible for the data. The main database concepts of STORET follow the business of water quality monitoring.

Both the LDC and STORET are web-enabled and available to the public. With a standard web browser, you can browse both systems interactively or create files to be downloaded to your computer. If you want to query and download data from the LDC or STORET, go to Obtaining Water Quality Data from any of the STORET web pages.

Monitoring organizations who wish to submit data to STORET must operate the STORET System locally. The local STORET System is a data management system with data entry and reporting software modules that operate on personal computers. Please see the STORET Architecture diagram to understand how data is transferred from local organizations to the national STORET Warehouse. If you are interested in using STORET as your water quality data repository, EPA will provide you with the STORET System free of charge.

EPA Windows to My Environment "Window To My Environment" (WME) is a powerful web-based tool that provides a wide range of federal, state, and local information about environmental conditions and features in an area of your choice. This application is provided by U.S. EPA in partnership with federal, state and local government and other organizations. http://www.epa.gov/enviro/wme/

Indiana Water Quality Atlas

The Indiana Water Quality Atlas contains water quality data, environmental data and aerial photography. This information can be used to help understand the water quality in your neighborhood, or community. The information can be used to help answer questions such as:

What pollutants cause the major impairments in my county or stream?

What streams have the highest level of (some pollutant)? Is the water (in some stream) better or worse than 5 years ago? The first step is to determine the watershed you live in or wish to study. You may do this using the Profiles section. Alternatively you may use the simple map, simple query or GIS interactive to go to the county or Watershed.

The second step is to overlay the water quality and other data. You may wish to display the AIMS water quality sampling sites. The Assessment Branch, Office of Water Quality Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), maintains the Assessment Information Management System (AIMS). A subset of the AIMS data is included in the IWQA. The IWQA AIMS database implementation provides information on the quality of surface water, sediments, macro invertebrate communities, and fish communities. In addition the IWQA includes IDEM’s data describing the condition of Indiana's streams, and lakes. Section 305(b) of the Clean Water Act requires the state to report on how well the waters of the state support these beneficial uses. About one-fifth of the state waters are assessed for support of aquatic life, fishing, and recreational use each year This data is included in the IWQA.

The third step involves analyzing and reviewing the data. The AIMS information may be graphed to show water quality over time. The 303D and 305B water data can be examined in relation to over 40 layers of reference and environmental data including aerial photography. In addition the IWQA data may be downloaded to be analyzed with a variety of local data.

The IWQA allows you to explore the watersheds of Indiana. You can view environmental data, infrastructure data, and demographic statistics in tables, customized maps, and pie charts. The information presented here includes the data created and/or compiled by various state agencies, the Indiana Geologic Survey (IGS), Indiana Department of Environmental Management, and the 2000 Federal Census.

Maryland Water Monitoring Council Clickable Map


This map is provided to facilitate collaboration and coordination among individuals and organizations collecting water quality monitoring data in the state of Maryland as well as for those who are interested in water monitoring activities occurring in their area. Updates to the map are made regularly as new information is received. It is the MWMC’s mission to provide a forum for effective communication, cooperation, and collaboration among individuals and organizations involved in water monitoring in Maryland. Our goal is that this map will serve as an effective tool in fulfilling this charge. http://cuereims.umbc.edu/MWMC/

National Environmental Methods Index


Use NEMI first to compare and contrast the performance and relative cost of analytical, test, and sampling methods for environmental monitoring. NEMI is a free, searchable clearinghouse of methods and procedures for regulatory and non-regulatory analyses. http://www.nemi.gov

National Parks Resource Inventory


Uses IT solutions to move information around the monitoring framework None
NOAA National Status & Trends Program The NS&T web site provides the user with different web-based data analysis and display tools and protocols that operate in a distributed information system environment accessing data from the agency's data holdings (as opposed to a centralized data system) to improve up-to date data retrieval, mapping, analysis, assessments, comparative studies, and visualization capabilities for users with different levels of data and analysis needs on the three Major NS&T Projects. http://ccma.nos.noaa.gov/cit/
NWIS/STORET - Coordinated Data Delivery

In February 2003, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) signed an agreement on data sharing between the agencies to benefit water-quality data users. The agreement replaced a May 2000 agreement, and has three provisions:

  1. To identify the quality of environmental water-quality data and use the National Water-Quality Monitoring Council’s Water-Quality Data Elements (WQDE) as a guide and framework for describing the source and quality of environmental water-quality data.
  2. Working with the National Water-Quality Monitoring Council (NWQMC) develop a geospatial internet-based query tool (portal) for sharing data in the most effective way possible, especially relying on data from the USEPA Storage and Retrieval data system (STORET), and the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS).
  3. Create a team of technical staff from USEPA and USGS to outline a process and create a work plan to enable sharing data in as timely a manner as possible.

The agreement requires each agency to invest in the portal creation within available resources, as a result the specific timetable for this activity was not specified in the agreement.

Pacific NW WQ Data Exchange The Pacific Northwest Water Quality Data Exchange (Exchange) comprises a number of related information management projects that collectively seek to facilitate the aggregation of and access to a comprehensive source of data related to water quality in the Pacific Northwest. The project is supported by funds allocated from the EPA Network Challenge Grant program, and with these projects, the States are applying the concepts embodied in the National Environmental Information Exchange Network. http://www.ecy.wa.gov/pnwdx/pnwdx_main.htm
Pacific/Yukon WQ Data Online

Environment Canada and the BC Ministry of Water, Land and Air Protection have been monitoring surface water quality for many years throughout the province. This federal-provincial water quality monitoring program plays an important role in determining long term trends in water quality, identifying emerging aquatic ecosystem impacts and providing decision-making resource information to Canadians. The Canadian Information System for the Environment (CISE) provided regional funds for improving public access to our federal-provincial water quality data, information and program. Access to the water quality information will enable all of us to make informed decisions together about our water resources.

Find out more about water quality in your area by surfing the regional monitoring program pages, try obtaining technical water quality data online, looking at the guidelines used to protect all the water uses and linking up with our regional publications and other related online resources. If you have any questions or would like more information on regional water quality, please feel free to contact us.


Spring Sport Fishing Survey TVA conducts its annual spring sportfish survey to help determine the number, age, and general health of black bass and crappie populations in TVA reservoirs. The results of the survey are used by state agencies to protect and improve sport fisheries. The 2004 survey was completed June 3 (2004), and the results will be posted on this site when available. (Site accessed 6/9/04) http://www.tva.gov/environment/water/catchfaq.htm
Use of hand-held computers for data entry PDA's and field computers are now used to record field data and enter results into databases None
USGS National Map The National Map is a consistent framework for geographic knowledge needed by the Nation. It provides public access to high-quality, geospatial data and information from multiple partners to help support decision making by resource managers and the public. The National Map is the product of a consortium of Federal, State, and local partners who provide geospatial data to enhance America's ability to access, integrate, and apply geospatial data at global, national, and local scales. The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) is committed to meeting the Nation's needs for current base geographic data and maps. Our vision is that, by working with partners, we will ensure that the Nation has access to current, accurate, and nationally consistent digital data and topographic maps derived from those data. http://nationalmap.usgs.gov/index.html
USGS NAWQA Data Warehouse

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began its NAWQA (National Water Quality Assessment) program in 1991, systematically collecting chemical, biological, and physical water quality data from 42 study units (basins) across the nation. The data warehouse currently contains and links the following data up through 9/30/2003:

  • Chemical concentrations in water, bed sediment, and aquatic organism tissues for about 609 chemical constituents
  • Site, basin, well and network characteristics with many descriptive variables
  • Daily stream flow information for fixed sampling sites
  • Ground water levels for sampled wells
  • 6,400 surface water sites and 7,000 wells
  • 44,000 nutrient samples and 26,000 pesticide samples as well as 8,000 VOC samples
  • 2,650 samples of bed sediment and aquatic organism tissues
  • Invertebrate data through 9/30/2002

These pages provide access to water-resources data collected at approximately 1.5 million sites in all 50 States, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico. Online access to this data is organized around the categories listed below:

  • REAL-TIME: Current-conditions data transmitted from selected surface-water, ground-water, and water-quality sites
  • SITE INFORMATION - Descriptive site information for all sites with links to all available water data for individual sites.
  • SURFACE WATER - Water flow and levels in streams, lakes, and springs.
  • GROUND WATER - Water levels in wells.
  • WATER QUALITY - Chemical and physical data for streams, lakes, springs, and wells.

The USGS investigates the occurrence, quantity, quality, distribution, and movement of surface and underground waters and disseminates the data to the public, State and local governments, public and private utilities, and other Federal agencies involved with managing our water resources.

Water Quality Data Elements The standard is intended to be used by database managers in the public and private sectors and the general public with an interest in developing and using data for reporting water quality monitoring results for chemical and microbiological analytes. Water quality monitoring, an increasingly important element of water quality management activities, provides information for understanding the condition of water bodies and the trends in observed water quality. The set of data elements is intended to allow data users to share and interpret sample test results from a variety of data sources or database management systems. The inclusion of data quality information enables secondary data users to utilize the information regardless of the data’s original intended use. This State/EPA data standard was approved by the Environmental Data Standards Council on August 21, 2002. http://wi.water.usgs.gov/methods/tools/wqde/index.htm
Web-based Load calculations Automated Geospatial Watershed Assessment - a GIS-based hydrologic modeling tool. AGWA uses widely available standardized spatial datasets that can be obtained via the internet. The data are used to develop input parameter files for two watershed runoff and erosion models: KINEROS and SWAT. http://www.tucson.ars.ag.gov/agwa/

Information Infrastructure Needs in Water Quality Monitoring

Some information infrastructure needs may be partially met by existing projects. In many cases, however, there is no connection between the stated need and the potential solution. There were many needs for which no related project was identified.

Need Description Related Projects
Use of WQDE Need to catalog who is using WQDE, how, and why. Water Quality Data Elements Pacific NW WQ Data Exchange Colorado WQMC Shared Database Information
Tech assistance for GIS use Need technical assistance to incorporate GIS technologies in data management, access, and analysis tools USGS National Map    
Focus for use of PDA's Need to provide a focus for the use of hand-held computers for data entry Use of hand-held computers for data entry    
Build dynamic reports in near-real time Need to develop reporting tools that incorporate data analyses of linked data and produce reports within a short time from data collection. Spring Sport Fishing Survey    
Coordinated Data Delivery Need to develop more coordinated data delivery systems NWIS/STORET - Coordinated Data Delivery Pacific NW WQ Data Exchange  
On-line data mining Need to access and analyze (graphs, plots, etc.) data online Indiana Water Quality Atlas NOAA National Status & Trends Program USGS NAWQA Data Warehouse
How to commonly reference methods How do we point to commonly referenced methods? Do we store that metadata or point to a registry? National Environmental Methods Index    
How to compare methods Need to provide more information on method comparability National Environmental Methods Index    
Move info around WQM framework Need a mechanism (e.g., expert system or series of systems) to make decisions and move information around all cogs of the WQ Monitoring Framework DQO-PRO EMMA National Parks Resource Inventory
Who-what-where Who has done or is doing what where? CA Natural Resource Inventory Maryland Water Monitoring Council Clickable Map  
QA/QC Software for WQM Projects Need QA/QC software for WQM project managers DQO-PRO    
Differing needs for information Need to recognize and accommodate differing needs for levels of intensity and accuracy in the various cogs of the framework. Different people (decision makers, project managers, data generators, data analysts) have different needs in the information they use. Different users have different approaches to using information and those different apporaches need to be considered. When choices in data quality are offered to various users, they must be cautioned about the quality of the data they are using to make decisions. EMMA    
Coordinated planning info for managers How can we coordinate planning information for managers?      
Develop IT projects in context of user Need to develop WQ-related IT projects within the context of the identity of the primary benefactor, i.e., data collector/generator, data user, decision maker, project manager.      
Tech assistance for ArcSDE services Need technical assistance to implement ArcSDE services, which allow database-independent sharing of GIS info.      
Standards Assessment Software Need software that assesses data against standards. The data are in multiple databases, so need to use web services to access this data before assessment.      
Managed Domain Lists Need someone to actively manage domain lists for methods, analytes and aliases, taxon, units      
Data Dictionary Need to develop a common data dictionary      
Peer support for GIS Need a GIS/ArcIMS work group for peer support, technical assistance, and enhanced communications      

Interested Parties and Key Contacts

A list of meeting attendees and/or people identified as key contacts for relevant projects was generated to develop a listserv. The listserv will be used for communications related to information infrastructure, as well as a resource for possible information infrastructure projects sponsored by the NWQMC. Please contact Curtis Cude (cude.curtis@deq.state.or.us) for information regarding the listserv or for key contact information.


The preceding tables show that there is activity related to information infrastructure taking place in all phases of the monitoring framework. Entrepreneurs, whether working for corporations, agencies, universities, or on their own, are developing information infrastructure products on their own. There is a need for greater communication between these projects. The knowledge shared via this communication would benefit the products of these efforts. There is a gap in what is needed by potential users and developers of information infrastructure. Greater communication would allow for targeted development of high priority products. Attendance at the meeting reflects broad interests, reflecting diverse personal and organizational backgrounds. The identification of key contacts is critical to linking needs to possible solutions. Key contacts are needed at EPA Offices of Science & Technology and Environmental Information to help identify other needs and solutions.

A vision is emerging that one could enter data collected in the field or laboratory, and, within a short turnaround, generate informational reports for the decision makers. A series of expert systems targeting each of the cogs of the monitoring framework might achieve this vision. The business community already uses supply-chain software to plan operations and procure inventory, analyze quality and quantity, analyze and report business trends, and provide for feedback and corrective action. This activity occurs across many levels within and/or between organizations. This approach delivers huge efficiencies which necessitate changes to various business operations.

Collaboration between decision makers, project managers, water quality monitoring experts, and information technology & services experts could provide a forum for communication and analysis. Communication allows linkages between projects and between needs and potential solutions. Analysis determines what course the community needs to take. Through coordinated improvement of information infrastructure, we will all be better situated to achieve these goals.

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