April 28, 2022
EarthSoft Interview with Tammy Middleton, Senior Hydrogeologist
[EarthSoft] What drove you to implement a centralized environmental data management system (EDMS)? What was the situational analysis or problems you were trying to solve?
[Tammy] The Region of Waterloo has several groups of scientists and engineers that generate environmental data related to our drinking water systems and waste management facilities. The Hydrogeology group at the Region of Waterloo was already using a data management system, but we wanted more tools for data collection and visualization, and it was important to our people to move to a system with robust tech support including training, and a help desk.
The landfills group did not use an inhouse data management system and data was held by various engineering consulting firms, in various formats. Our people wanted a system that would be more efficient, give us more control over our own data, and have tools for both consultants and Region employees to use.
[EarthSoft] How did you choose the solution? Was it functional requirements, market research, reference from others? Can you describe the process?
[Tammy] Our Hydrogeology group partnered with the Waste Management group at the Region and working with our internal IT department we did a formal assessment to identify current and future needs of the two groups. We looked at the types of data and data sets that the Region was collecting, what we wanted to do with the information, the support and training that we wanted, and the requirements set by our IT systems. We had a long list of “needs” which we then categorized into must-have, desired, and nice-to-have.
[EarthSoft] Why did you ultimately select EQuIS?
[Tammy] We selected EQuIS through a formal purchasing process – EQuIS met all the mandatory requirements and scored very high on the desired and nice-to-have requirements. It gives us what we need for analysis and visualization of both our geology data and our groundwater and drinking water quality data.
[EarthSoft] Describe your environmental data management program(s), such as the number of environmental programs, geographical coverage, number of users, number of sites, and others.
[Tammy] The Region of Waterloo has about 120 active drinking water supply wells in 40 wellfields, plus hundreds of monitoring wells and hundreds of drinking water sample sites throughout our communities. We manage one active landfill and five closed landfills. Some of our datasets have millions of records and the types of information we collect and analyze includes groundwater levels, groundwater, drinking water, and process water quality, well pumping records, geophysical data, well construction records, and borehole geology data. Data comes into our EQuIS system in a variety of ways, including EDDs from our own certified water laboratory, water levels and temperature data sent automatically over a low-power “Eleven-X” wireless network, and electronic submissions from consultants completing hydrogeologic investigations and soil, water, and vapour monitoring.
[EarthSoft] Can you provide either quantitative or qualitative improvements in your environmental data management processes post implementation? Gains in quality, efficiency, process, and others?
[Tammy] Our people have already seen improvements in our environmental data management processes. Data is entered into the database more quickly. Advanced users can more quickly interpret and present information using EQuIS Professional tools. Project managers and decision makers are now able to use the Enterprise dashboard tools to check data and verify trends or exceedances in a timely manner. An unexpected benefit is that EQuIS, being continually updated by EarthSoft, is able to connect to new corporate IT solutions such as our Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS), LoRaWAN telemetry system, and Power BI. And we are working with EarthSoft to further develop the interface with FEFLOW groundwater model data.
[EarthSoft] Any lessons learned that you want to share?
[Tammy] More than a few lessons learned! Some things went much better than expected, and other areas are progressing more slowly than we thought. I think we had a good understanding of what it would take to move our data into the EQuIS database. And we were well prepared to set up valid values and other QA/QC rules. We were a bit overwhelmed by the task of setting up dashboards – because we did not know what we wanted. Eventually we put in place simple dashboards and let the users ask for more features. We underestimated the time and effort required for our busy people and consultants to switch over to new field and office tools. On the plus side – we learned that we could allow the field programs (mostly run by consultants) to use their own tools to prepare EDDs which would be fine with our EQuIS system. When we were selecting our data solution, our IT department recommended that we select an “off the shelf” product and try to avoid customizations (in the past we had used mostly custom database tools). This was great advice – it has given us flexibility to connect with new corporate tools like Power BI, and when IT is happy – everyone wins!