Digital Monitoring Helps a Management District Ensure the Sustainable Use of Water

An analytics software platform helps a Florida water management district enhance operational efficiencies while improving visibility into water-quality data.

Digital Monitoring Helps a Management District Ensure the Sustainable Use of Water

Sampling stations like this one collect data that the St. Johns River Water Management District analyzes as a basis for water management decision-making.

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Water quality monitoring is an important function at the St. Johns River Water Management District, one of five water management districts in Florida.

As an environmental regulatory agency, the district focuses on protecting natural resources and ensuring the sustainable use of water to benefit residents of the district and the state. The district’s water quality monitoring team aims to help protect and restore water quality by enabling decisions based on accurate and timely information.

District staff members were finding it time consuming and difficult to centralize water quality data with its field visit data. In response, the district converted to the AQUARIUS analytics software tool from Aquatic Informatics. It gathers, processes and models data in real time and includes a data correction tool used by the U.S. Geological Survey and other district partners.

Multiple data points

The district’s water quality data quality assurance team manages a large amount of discrete and continuous data for surface and groundwater monitoring. The network includes more than 40 continuous monitoring stations, plus some 800 time-series and 900 discrete surface and groundwater monitoring stations, together collecting more than 1 million data points per year. Confidence in the quality of this data is essential.

“One of my first tasks after stepping into a leadership role in 2016 was to figure out how to tackle quality-assuring our continuous water quality data,” say Dr. Margaret Guyette, technical program manager for the Water Quality Monitoring Program. “There was so much data coming into our system but no efficient way to manage and quality-assure it all. We wanted to be more confident in our data, so we started to explore other data management options.”

Challenges included difficulty in quality-assuring the data, performing drift checks and correcting the data efficiently. The district also wanted to use the same tried-and-tested tools that the USGS and other agencies have adopted. Together these issues were consuming valuable staff time.

The district’s application development team was overextended and unable to use in-house staff to write custom software. “We wanted an off-the-shelf product that had built-in functionality around quality assurance and corrections and that would also provide us with self-serve analytics and better insight into our data,” Guyette says.

Efficient and accurate

The AQUARIUS platform streamlines the management of continuous water data with advanced data processing tools and automates storage, processing and workflows. For example, the way modifications are saved has the added benefit of creating a historical data trail, preserving both the updated and original values.

“When we modified time series in our old system, it was not as easy to interact with the original raw data,” Guyette says. “Now we can very clearly see both the raw data and any modifications we’ve made, which is very useful for future reference. It’s also much easier to flag bad data when we see it.” 

Data is easily accessible with AQUARIUS WebPortal, and its custom dashboards improve communications with internal stakeholders including field staff, project managers and scientists. The dashboard approach makes it easier for the team to access and understand continuous water quality data and how things change over time. This helps reduce short-term response times and supports longer-term decision-making based on the predictability of trends.

Customizable alerts push critical data notifications to staff when action needs to be taken. “The alerts allow us to stay on top of things,” Guyette says. “If any data is more than six hours past due from a station, the system automatically alerts our field technicians via email.”

The district has also set up alerts to inform the team of events such as low dissolved oxygen. “These alerts give our project managers a heads-up, because low dissolved oxygen may lead to fish kills,” Guyette says. “It’s important that our staff know what’s going on at all times.”

Versatile dashboards

Guyette has customized a number of dashboards that staff members use to collect data and troubleshoot station problems. Three kinds of dashboards are used for diagnostics and data visualization.

The status dashboard visually represents major parameters measured with probes at each station. This determines whether any data is overdue and by how long, whether data is being suppressed, whether one of the probes is down, and more.

The second dashboard graphs a seven-day timeline for every parameter of interest, including parameters such as battery voltage. The third type shows 30-day snapshots of groups of stations, enabling staff to see changes happening over a longer time (see accompanying graph for example). “Dashboards should be the first place our field staff look to assess our continuous stations,” Guyette says.

Though the team at the district is currently only using the AQUARIUS WebPortal internally, it can also be used as a public-facing portal, allowing municipalities to share water quality data with the public and external stakeholders.

Some areas within the district, such as the Indian River Lagoon and St. Johns River, are actively monitored for algal blooms. In warmer months, a group from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection sends out daily emails to stakeholders including senior managers from multiple agencies. These emails include data snapshots from the district’s continuous water quality monitoring stations. 

Real-time intelligence

“People are tapping into our data daily to make decisions, and that’s one of the reasons why it’s critical for us to be on top of our data,” Guyette says. “Without a clear, centralized system with alerts and easy-to-use dashboards, the whole process would be much harder to manage.”

Knowing in real time when problems occur increases the chance of solving problems before they trigger larger regulatory issues. Confidence in the accuracy of this data is vital.

Centralizing water quality data also reduces administrative time spent on filling requests from stakeholders. “Our whole quality assurance process has improved,” Guyette says “Everything is all in one place, including our field visit data. Overall, the system is easy to navigate and accessible even to our staff who are less tech savvy.”

About the author: Chris Heyer ( is director of sales for Aquatic Informatics, a company that provides software for water data management and analytics.   


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