Advancing Water Resources Research and Management
|Symposium on Water Resources and the World Wide Web|
|Seattle, Washington, December 5-9, 1999|
Environmental investigations often deal with critical constraints in funding and timelines. Projects from the scale of a Superfund site to individual facilities can benefit by integrating the use of Internet resources. The Internet, unlike previous forms of communication, offers environmental site managers the speed to communicate and distribute information very rapidly, allows a flexibility in presenting and archiving information unmatched by print media or traditional public meetings, and makes it possible to reach a wider audience than can be achieved using existing methods. These advantages offer tremendous cost savings to site managers, reducing the need to distribute printed materials, convene public or project meetings, or fly project personnel and government regulators to remote sites. It also improves the end-users access to project information and provides a more efficient way to offer feedback. The primary limitations to integrating the use of Internet resources are educating end-users and project personnel about the Internet's benefits, and compensating for the technological limitations of Internet users and existing computer software. Understanding the advantages and limitations will allow site managers to maximize the benefits and efficiencies the Internet offers to environmental site management.
For environmental site managers, the Internet offers a number of advantages when distributing data and analyses to end-users. Traditionally a site manager had to publish results and data in a hard copy format and distribute the information by mail or in person. This often created a lengthy process of months or years between the time data is collected and published. Providing the same information through an Internet website or by email allows the distribution of information to multiple parties in the time it takes to make a phone call. This saves considerably on the cost of production and distribution of data products and allows for quicker review by the general public, government regulators and other end-users.
In addition to efficient methods of data distribution, the Internet offers a number of tools to gather and archive feedback from end-users. This allows on-going discussion between environmental site managers and end-users that reduces confusion and other problems that might develop during the course of an investigation. It also reduces the need to convene face to face meetings and long-distance conference calls, particularly with state and federal regulators. This saves significantly on time, travel and communication costs.
The archiving capabilities offered by the Internet provide an effective way for site managers to distribute reference material and historical information to end-users. One example of this is a Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) archive. FAQs provide an efficient method of educating new and existing end-users about the basic aspects of an environmental investigation and project resources. This in turn reduces the education costs to site managers.
Many of the Internet tools that facilitate communication between site managers and end-users offer ways of presenting data that are superior to what can be achieved through print media or traditional public meetings. Web sites can offer animations, automatically updated data tables, and presentation features that cannot be reproduced in print. The cost of printed material often restricts the scope of what can be presented and the size of the audience. For a comparable cost you can set up a web site that offers a variety of information including real-time data, dynamic graphs and models, and audio/video presentations to an unlimited audience.
A web site can also provide a useful extension to public meetings. A presentation, created with the Internet in mind, can be presented at a public meeting and placed on a web site. This provides a resource for meeting participants, expands the potential audience, and can serve as a continuing resource for the interested public. With tools currently available, the web site can also provide public feedback - which is the purpose of many public meetings. This may provide an adequate replacement for many such meetings and save on associated costs.
The Internet offers many tools for multiple investigators. On-line meeting software offers the advantages of face to face meetings and the convenience of teleconferencing without the costs of either. Data, analyses and progress reports can be archived and reviewed on a web site more efficiently than paper copies. Changes and notes can be returned in the same manner. With the proper equipment data can be collected and distributed in real-time, turning the Internet into a medium for remote sensing applications.
First, commonly available software allows for reliable audio/visual interaction, simultaneous transfer of files, and presentation of graphics to several individuals present at a virtual meeting. The logistics of such on-line meetings are simpler than conference calls and less expensive for the same level of information exchange as a face to face meeting.
Second, the Internet provides a convenient way for collaborators to document and archive incremental changes in an environmental project. This preserves the positive and negative results of projects conducted at each stage of an investigation. This data can help prevent repeated mistakes and may prove invaluable when determining the best solution to the issues that exist.
Third, with the proper equipment in place, the Internet offers ways for investigators to monitor remote sites. This reduces the need for on-site visits by managers and can eliminate the need for full-time personnel at locations where security or safety are an issue.
In 1996, as members of the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), two of the authors (G. Whitton, and M. Lilly) developed a web site with the intention of providing environmental professionals greater access to the regional groundwater and surface water data collected by the USGS around Fairbanks, Alaska. The web site provided greater access to data and a number of other benefits. Our use of the Internet allowed us to pass information to end-users more efficiently than conventional methods of publishing and distribution. This improved the value of the data, allowing environmental professionals to make better decisions as to the course of their investigations, saving time and money in the process. The end result of our efforts saw a significant increase in the use of Fairbanks groundwater and surface water data, and a decrease in the cost of providing these data to the public.
In 1998, with the USGS web site as a model, a similar site (http://www.uaf.edu/water/projects/ftww/ftww.html) was developed for the University of Alaska Fairbanks, Water and Environmental Research Center (WERC). The goal of the web site was to facilitate the study of groundwater contamination at Fort Wainwright, Alaska, an active military base in the Fairbanks vicinity. Using data collected originally through the USGS, the web site continues a record of on-line publishing for Fort Wainwright that spans more than three years. As with the USGS, the users of the Fort Wainwright data represent a broad group of environmental professionals in a variety of locations. This requires an efficient method of distribution, a role the Internet fulfills.
Below, are a few examples of the information provided on the WERC Website:
|An animated graph showing continous ground water levels in 1997, near the Chena River, on Fort Wainwright. The graph is animated to indicate some of the important hydrologic features.|
|An animated graph showing the effects of bank recharge on specific conductivity (W1) during snowmelt . Chena River, Fort Wainwright|
|A photograph showing the location of a test well within the investigation area on Fort Wainwright, Alaska|
As administrators of the WERC website, we can compile usage statistics on the documents we place on-line. These data tell us how often documents are being used, who the end-users are, and what interests them. These data also tells us what is not being used, giving us information needed to fine-tune the site and better address the needs of the end-users.
In 1998, a web site (http://www.bethelfuels.com) was created for Bethel Fuel Sales (Bethel, Alaska) to provide the public and the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (ADEC) information about an ongoing environmental investigation and the company's regulatory compliance. During the course of the web site's development a number of significant cost savings were realized. Bethel Fuels fulfilled its public disclosure requirement by distributing results of the investigation over the web site, saving the cost of developing and distributing printed material. Making the latest data and photos available on-line, we reduce the need to fly investigators and environmental consultants from Anchorage and Fairbanks for on-site inspections. This keeps transportation expenses to a minimum, saving considerably on costs. Below are examples of the type of data being provided on-line to facilitate the flow of information between ADEC, the owners of Bethel Fuels, and environmental consultants.
A photograph showing the construction of an earthen berm south of the Bethel Fuel Sales tank farm.
A photograph showing an installed donut drainage system, that directs the flow of leaking fuel tanks into a specially designed catchment-basin.
A photograph showing the fuel catchment-basin, in relation to the Bethel Fuel Sales tank farm.
An animated graphic showing year 21, of a 21-year soil temperature simulation at the Bethel Fuel Sales facility.
An animated graph showing the daily changes in soil temperature at a test pit constructed at the Bethel Fuel Sales site. The graphic records temperature values from 4/11/98 to 6/12/98 .
A triangulated irregular-network (TIN) isometric map of the Bethel Fuel Sales tank farm and surrounding terrain, shown from a North East perspective. This file was created in AutoCAD and is presented here as a static graphic. To view the file in its original interactive format, which requires the Autodesk plugin "Whip!", please visit the Bethel Fuel Sales website (http://www.bethelfuels.com/environmental/maps/tin6.html).
When considering the use of the Internet as a tool in environmental site management, a number of issues should be considered. For us, one of the greatest hurdles to integrating use of the Internet is demonstrating to clients the benefits it offers over traditional methods of communication and data distribution. Many are simply comfortable with the current methods they use and do not see a reason to change. The key is an understanding of the cost savings and efficiency of the Internet that makes the change worthwhile.
Finally, in developing a web site you may encounter situations where the technology simply does not exist to implement your design. In the early stages of Internet development we encountered this quite frequently. Word processors and spreadsheets could not convert over to Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and graphics programs would not support Internet graphics formats. Getting around these limitations often requires developing alternative methods for processing and displaying information, developing your own programs, or working with companies whose products you use.
As the end of the millennium approaches, the importance of the Internet to government agencies, environmental organizations, and private industry grows daily. The phenomenal growth of the Internet in the last few years and the enormous flow of information that has followed, serves to demonstrate the potential this technology offers to site managers as an efficient and cost effective method of distributing information to end-users. When considering the Internet as such a tool, developers should be aware of the goals of the web site, the audience they are trying to serve, and the potential technological limits that may exist. Designing a web site with these issues in mind, maximizes the benefits and efficiencies to environmental site management.
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