Thomas Kwader tackles the question, what is being done with the massive amount of information we're collecting from monitoring wells?

Data loggers and probes. Courtesy of Matthew Johns.
Every year, millions of parameters are analyzed from tens of thousands of ground water monitoring wells. The number of monitoring wells may range from three to hundreds of wells per site. What is being done with all of this data collected? What is the purpose of collecting this data? What is good data and how do we recognize bad data?

Let's assume that the data collected is representative and good. Most monitoring data is collected and put into quarterly, semi-annual or annual reports and submitted, usually to a governmental agency (local, state or federal) for review. The better reports track trends in contaminant concentrations indicative of ground water movement from contaminant source areas on site. In some cases, the monitoring data is providing an indication of progress being made by a ground water recovery and treatment system operating on site.

Unfortunately, too much data is being collected at a large expense without being analyzed for trends, which may indicate the need to modify monitoring or ground water flow at the site. Monitoring wells can demonstrate if off-site migration is occurring or deeper aquifers are being affected. Since ground water and associated contamination generally move very slowly - often feet per day or less - action can be taken in advance to minimize unforeseen impacts if the monitoring data is carefully reviewed.

Drilling a monitoring well for the Nuclear Regulatory Commission in Maricopa, Ariz. Courtesy of the University of Arizona.
The responsibility of the data review and analyses should be made clear, which is usually performed by an environmental consultant and/or environmental manager of the facility. We should not count on the regulating authority to evaluate the data - those people usually have too many sites to review carefully and it is not their job to compile historic data to draw conclusions. Tables and preferably graphs showing historic trends for site contaminants of concern and should be provided in the reports that clearly show the trends of the data.

On the other hand, in many cases, a large number of monitoring wells were initially installed on the more complex sites with a wide range of parameters being analyzed. In some cases, many compounds being analyzed were never even used on site. However, the initial list of wells and frequency of monitoring rarely changes and too much data is collected for too long.

A thorough analysis of the data will indicate which wells can be eliminated or suggest changes in the frequency of monitoring to save money without compromising the monitoring program.

Let's not collect data for the sake of collecting data to fill filing cabinets and hard drives. The data trends should be watched closely and changes made where necessary.