Reporting on water quality monitoring
Reporting is an integral part of a monitoring, evaluation and reporting process that is tied to the monitoring program objectives. Reporting is all about communication. Sharing the results of monitoring and evaluation with an audience in a meaningful way.
A single monitoring project or program may lead to one report. In other situations, monitoring may be used to generate several different types of reports, varying in complexity and format, but all relating to the same underlying data.
Define the audience
The primary audience for water quality reporting will typically be the organisation that funded the project or program and its stakeholders. The funding organisation will often define its requirements around the type, complexity, length and timeliness of reporting.
More broadly, the audience includes people who would benefit from the information. These people have an interest in the raw data or the information that is produced. These people often make decisions around water quality management. They may choose to be involved in public discussion about water quality management. They may be interested for educational benefits.
Answer two important questions to help define your reporting requirements:
- Who are the people that would benefit from receiving your water quality data or information products?
- What level of detail do these people need?
Once those issues have been clarified and all the data have been analysed as required, you will find it easier to develop targeted reporting products.
How we report on water quality monitoring
Some government authorities and occasionally nongovernment bodies produce ‘report cards’ that communicate information to wide audiences about the state or condition of aquatic environments and sometimes more specifically about improvements resulting from management responses in water quality management plans.
These reporting products present and interpret water quality data with reference to a scale that enables systematic ranking of condition. This is best achieved if the audience has previously been made aware of the context, so management responses to condition assessments can demonstrate improvements and achieve broad acceptance.
Examples of report cards for catchment-scale water quality management plans:
- Great Barrier Reef Report Card
- NSW state of the catchments (SOC) reports
- South Australian aquatic ecosystem condition reports (ACERs)
- Yarra River and Port Phillip Bay Report Card.
State of the environment reporting
Governments produce state of the environment (SoE) reports on large spatial or temporal scales. These are broadly similar to report cards and often follow ‘driver-pressure-state-impact-response’ (DPSIR) models but cover a wider range of environmental issues than just water quality.
Examples of state of the environment reports:
- Australia State of the Environment (SoE) reporting
- New Zealand’s environment reporting
- ACT State of the Environment Report
- NSW State of the Environment reporting
- Queensland State of the Environment Report
- SA State of the Environment reporting
- Tasmania State of the Environment Report
- Victorian State of the Environment Report
- WA State of the Environment reporting.
Environmental regulators, such as environment protection authorities (EPAs), require many industries to comply with legislation that minimises the risk of water pollution.
Compliance reporting presents data and information as required by regulation. It can be done in various ways, such as the submission of raw data through to detailed discharge monitoring and receiving environment monitoring reports. Compliance reporting is designed to show that the regulated activity is performing as required.
The regulator would typically specify the reporting content and format, which would relate back to the compliance monitoring plan objectives. Compliance reports in some jurisdictions are available to the general public. Contact your state or territory environmental regulator.
Newsletters, brochures or information sheets
Many organisations publish newsletters that include short reports of their activities. These can be useful to publicise a monitoring program that has been undertaken by the organisation or funded by it.
Newsletter reports raise awareness about the monitoring program and its objectives, and can form the basis of a press release to trade journals and the media. Other printed materials that publicise findings fall into this category.
Traditional news media
Media reports are important for disseminating general information about a monitoring program and its objectives. They can come about in a structured (controlled) or unstructured way.
In a structured way, the information is made available via a media release on behalf of the organisation undertaking the study or its client.
Unstructured reporting of environmental findings can lead to undue public anxiety and unplanned effort from agencies in response to political pressures, often to readdress issues that have already been covered as part of the investigation but incorrectly reported.
Digital content can be a powerful means of making data available to a very wide audience.
Most agencies and industries make technical reports and monitoring data available digitally, for example:
Raw water quality data is already available on open data websites, for example:
- Australian Government data.gov.au
- New Zealand Government data.govt.nz
- South Australia’s WaterConnect
- Victoria’s Water Measurement Information System.
It is best to explain why the data were collected and include a cautionary note about using the data in other ways, which could be misleading.
Social media has become a central part of how we communicate. Online communities carry a strong and influential voice so there is much to be gained by promoting stakeholder involvement through these channels.
Environmental water quality messages can be quickly and easily communicated to large numbers of people through social media platforms, for example:
- Australian Government Department of the Environment and Energy Facebook page
- New Zealand Ministry for the Environment Facebook page
- Bureau of Meteorology (@BOM_au) on Twitter
- The Great Barrier Reef – Queensland Government Facbook page.
Social media can channel information from the public for crowd-sourcing environmental information or citizen science programs, for example:
Mobile devices have revolutionised social networking and the way we share information. Citizen science survey programs often rely on smart phone apps to capture large amounts of data (e.g. FrogWatch programs).
Sharing information through social media enables us to better engage, inform and educate — in real-time, through multiple channels, and to reach a much broader audience.
Video presentations can communicate visually interesting stories and educational messages to help explain scientific information generated by monitoring programs, as well as informing people about catchment-to-coast management issues. For example, videos released by:
- Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority YouTube channel
- South East Queensland Healthy Land & Water YouTube channel.
Complex reports contain details on all aspects of the water quality monitoring project or program. The detail makes it possible to compare the data with those from other studies and allows further work to be based on appropriate prior information.
Typical layout of a complex report
- Executive summary — expresses the technical findings in relation to the objectives, succinctly and in plain English for managers unfamiliar with technical detail
- Introduction — outlines the context, previous studies in the area or related studies, and project or program objectives
- Methods — describes experimental detail such as study location, objectives and design, including descriptions of methods of sampling and analysis
- Results — clearly presents the key data with descriptive or inferential statistics, sometimes in combination with the ‘Discussion’
- Discussion — interprets data and outlines implications for management
- Conclusions — draws concluding remarks from the results and discussion
- Recommendations — suggests ideas for implementation and future work
- References — details literature cited in the report
- Appendixes — provides laboratory reports, data tables or other information that is too detailed or distracting to be included in the main body of the report.
New Zealand and Australian states and territories have jurisdictional reporting arrangements in relation to water quality, for example:
- New Zealand and its regional councils produce state of the environment reports
- Queensland Water Quality and Ecosystem Health
- South Australia Aquatic ecosystem condition reports (ACERs)
- New South Wales Monitoring, Evaluation and Reporting
- Tasmania annual waterways monitoring reports
- Tasmania state of rivers reports
- Victoria Index of Condition System.