Our environmental site work is often scattered across the country and many remediation projects are situated in remote areas or on rough terrain. This can make site visits time consuming for our clients and field staff, especially when conducting data collection at numerous groundwater remediation and monitoring sites. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has added complications when traveling is required. While we have implemented automation of data collection and processing before at various sites, this technology has become even more necessary given our effort to keep our clients and staff safe with the added benefit of efficient and effective data collection and analysis. We are seeing an increased shift toward automating data collection and processing tasks.
One Superfund remediation site successfully implemented the automation of data collection for groundwater and surface water monitoring, which was then used as a model for another groundwater remediation site. Groundwater monitoring wells and surface water monitoring locations within and downgradient of the in-situ remediation areas were equipped with multi-parameter data sensors/loggers connected to telemetry units that routinely transmit data to a cloud-based database. The team configured the data to automatically feed into a remediation dashboard for easy review and analysis.
Monitoring at the former Superfund site focused on water levels and temperature measurements for an in situ thermal remediation system (ISTR) operating near a stream. Multi-phase recovery wells were installed and a previously installed subsurface collection trench was incorporated as a contingency measure to regulate groundwater temperature, hydraulic control, and/or recover light non-aqueous phase liquid (LNAPL) if water outside of the treatment area warmed up and/or LNAPL migrated towards the stream. Real-time monitoring of groundwater temperature helped the team understand whether heat was migrating from the treatment area and if extraction outside the treatment area was warranted to control heat and/or potential LNAPL migration. Automatic data collection allowed for real-time decision making to determine if contingency measures needed to be implemented to prevent the spread of heat and LNAPL, while also providing a safer approach for our project team.
In the case of the second site, which includes a passive in situ chemical reduction permeable reactive barrier (PRB) installed downgradient of an ISTR area and upgradient of a wetland, the team is checking groundwater temperature, water level, and geochemistry parameters. The data is used to assess the reactivity of the PRB and to monitor for the potential of heated groundwater migrating into the wetland. They supplement the data analysis with meteorological records from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) automatically added to the dashboard.
While some of the field-based monthly monitoring is still conducted due to older technology that was not compatible with automation and to verify sensor-based data, where we were able, we programmed the entire process from data measurement and collection to storage, manipulation, and analysis. This approach has saved staff a significant amount of time, enabling them to focus on analysis and decision making. The ability to access this critical data in real time provides the opportunity to make proactive, immediate changes as opposed to reacting to monthly or quarterly data analysis. Local weather data also helps identify trends and safety concerns that otherwise might go overlooked. This ultimately saves our staff time, improves safety, enhances quality, and reduces cost for our clients, especially in some of our more remote sites with difficult terrain and hard to reach monitoring locations.
Knowledge is Power
A remediation dashboard can be configured for client access, which increases project transparency, budget management, and knowledge sharing. The remediation dashboard not only presents the data and interpretations of trends, but also confirms the collection of pertinent data. Additionally, specific ranges of data and particular monitoring locations can be examined in more detail. This fosters collaborative decision-making for the project for things such as modifications to treatment system operations or collection of field samples for laboratory analysis. A gold standard is the ability to anticipate data trends through “predictive analytics” – dashboards can be configured to reflect on the prior data or anticipate correlations between parameters, and then project future behaviors. Other benefits include:
- Reduced labor and cost required to manage data, produce data tables, and generate trend plots and graphs;
- Quickly comparing data to criteria and performing correlational and statistical analysis of the data;
- Improved data quality through automatically identifying and correcting outlier values; and
- Minimal potential for human error during data transcription.
In addition to groundwater and surface water monitoring for groundwater remediation, the automated collection of data can also be leveraged for vapor intrusion mitigation, stormwater monitoring, industrial compliance, and water resource management. The system provides early warning signs of trends, produces representative and defensible data, improves regulatory compliance, and reduces costs of collecting and managing data.