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As technology advances, water data becomes easier to generate. That means water resource managers, whether managing environmental, municipal, or industrial water, have increasingly large and complex data sets to manage and interpret. Increasingly, regulators, stakeholders, and the community expect water managers to
make informed decisions based on high quality data.

How do water data sets get so big? If you consider that one continuous sensor can collect four data points an hour – a relatively slow rate for sensors – 24 hours a day, 365 days a year – that equals 35,040 data points per year! And that’s just for one site. Given that modern multiprobes can facilitate 4, 5, or 6 sensors, data sets can become unwieldly in a very short amount of time.

Then there is the variety of data. There are data collected from sensors, physical water quality data generated from the collection of grab samples, and data from the analysis of grab samples provided by the laboratory. And that is just the water quality data! There is also information coming in from flow meters and weather stations, and river stream gauging stations report water levels every few minutes. Biological sampling generates different data types entirely. The question then becomes how to manage all the data, and how to turn raw data into information on which to base decisions.

What do you need in a water data management system? First and foremost, you need one that can securely manage your data throughout the data cycle. A modern system should also manage:

1. Acquiring and importing data
2. Validating and analyzing data
3. Visualizing and modelling data
4. Reporting and sharing data

What data management systems do most organizations use to manage their water data? It turns out that over 60% of them use spreadsheets and/or instrument vendor software, and data often end up scattered across multiple spreadsheets or software packages. Documenting your decisions could become a nightmare. If your regulator or auditor requested records of your compliance monitoring, would your data management system provide the surety they require?

Water managers should consider the cost of non-compliance in terms of risk – business risk, reputation risk, and legal risk. You must balance these significant risks against the cost of investing in timely, accurate, and defensible water data. By examining the strengths and weaknesses of spreadsheets, the value of an industry-specific software solution becomes clear.

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