Sitka Technology Group

Integrated Water Monitoring

Tetra Tech and Sitka Technology Group are partnering to demonstrate how integrated status and trend monitoring will provide a greater ability to answer higher order questions over time, drive efficiencies through standardization, and produce insightful reports.

In response to former Governor Christine Gregoire’s Executive Order 09-07 to “reduce duplication of environmental monitoring efforts… streamline, coordinate and consolidate field work and environmental sampling done by state agency personnel,” Washington’s Department of Ecology set out to consolidate its environmental reporting requirements, which over time had broadened to accommodate a diverse set of management questions.

Using a grant from Ecology, the Lower Columbia Fish Recovery Board (LCFRB), in coordination with the Pacific Northwest Aquatic Monitoring Partnership (PNAMP), are overseeing an effort to develop a status and trends monitoring design for the Washington portion of the Lower Columbia.  The project was intended to inform future Municipal Stormwater Permits in Southwest Washington by producing a monitoring design that addresses multi-scale questions about status and trends of physical, chemical and biological attributes, including those influenced by stormwater.  The project built on the progress of PNAMP’s Integrated Statues and Trends Monitoring (ISTM) Project, which was looking at ways to design and implement more coordinated, efficient, and effective aquatic ecosystem monitoring.  By integrating status and trends monitoring related to municipal stormwater permits with other existing monitoring efforts in the Lower Columbia, the intent was to gain fiscal efficiencies and more robust and meaningful regional assessments. 

The LCFRB looked to Tetra Tech and Sitka for their technical expertise to help evaluate the deceptively simple questions of where to sample and how often.  For example, are stormwater, habitat, and water quality monitoring locations the same? No. Some do overlap, but they use inherently different study designs. Stormwater samples are taken from the mouth of watersheds; habitat monitoring is done in the reaches; and TMDL water quality monitoring requires a more intensive dispersal altogether than either stormwater or habitat.

Tetra Tech and Sitka found that there were not enough sites among the area’s ten public monitoring programs to report on all strata needed to satisfy Ecology’s diverse reporting requirements, let alone consolidate the number of monitoring locations as the agency had hoped. Though the study concluded that integrated monitoring does not produce huge reductions in monitoring locations nor in efficiency gains, it showed how its underlying data is much more powerful than solitary reports in understanding ecosystems. By moving from collecting data for these “silo’d” reports to collecting integrated monitoring data, scientists and researchers could get more powerful data able to answer the questions of today as well as those that will arrive in the future.

Sitka’s experience developing tools to support environmental monitoring was a great asset in reducing the time required to set up the sample designs and improving the integrated monitoring plan. Much of the project involved compiling historical monitoring locations and associated metadata. The team relied heavily on PNAMP’s Monitoring Resources, a suite of complementary online tools designed to support development and documentation of monitoring programs. Sitka worked with PNAMP to develop Monitoring Resources, which currently contains four tools. Because the existing programs for habitat monitoring were already involved in PNAMP’s ISTM demonstration project, many of the protocols used to collect data for these programs were already documented in the Monitoring Methods tool. Those not already captured were easily added to the tool. To lay out the initial proposed integrated study design, Sitka used the Sample Designer tool. Their familiarity with the tool helped them explain the complex concepts behind probabilistic sampling designs in such a way that those without statistical backgrounds understood the rationale for choosing the approach.  According to Tetra Tech’s Project Manager (PM) Tricia Gross, “Sitka understands the statistics that drive the models and is able to interpret the science so that clients understand their role and significance.”

The original project goals were lofty and its timeline aggressive. Fortunately, Tricia Gross possesses “a great ability to maintain a high level of professionalism during an engagement’s stressful times,” said Sitka PM Steve Rentmeester. “By keeping the customer informed, she helped ensure they trusted that they were getting what they needed.” There is no clearer indication of her value than the speed with which the customer elected to go forward with a pilot project to test the findings from this initial study phase.

At the end of the engagement, the work product delivered by Tetra Tech and Sitka was more than just a series of reports and meetings with stakeholders. It also included a publicly accessible study design for potential integrated monitoring scenario in Lower Columbia and the documented methods employed by Ecology for stormwater monitoring. The web-enabled interface provides easy access to the work, raises the customer’s satisfaction by leveraging an existing, structured framework, and sets the stage for the next engagement.