MDE TARSA Implementation of the EPA (Office
of Water) STORET System
STORET (short for STOrage and RETreival) is a national environmental database developed by EPA in the early sixties to promote centralized storage and retrieval of environmental monitoring data collected by states and tribes. The “Legacy” version of STORET was run in the not-so-user-friendly mainframe computer environment, which often left users discouraged and frustrated. Starting in 1999, EPA redeveloped STORET on an Oracle platform to take advantage of the more modern architecture of personal computers and local servers. Environmental data from sediment and water, and biological data can now be entered into STORET from a local PC using software provided free by EPA. Users retain ownership over their copy of STORET and choose when (or whether) to share data with EPA. All data shared with EPA is made publicly available via a Web interface. EPA also provides free hands-on training, on-line and phone technical support.
The Technical and Regulatory Services Administration (TARSA) within MDE has been operating in a decentralized database environment where different monitoring programs maintain information using separate software systems. Additionally, data supplied by contracted venders also is received in various software systems. This has limited TARSA’s ability to share information both within and outside of the Department. To address this, TARSA’s Data Management Division was created to combine data from these separate systems into STORET. Having our ambient data in a consistent format in one location will facilitate the development of water quality assessments and Total Maximum Daily Loads to address the State’s impaired waters. Additionally, capitalizing on STORET will allow the Department to provide data to the public. Data from MDE’s copy of STORET will be periodically uploaded to EPA and made publicly available via EPA’s STORET’s website.
EPA also provides free software that will allow data managers to upload historical data to STORET and also permits users to download selected data from STORET into PC spreadsheets for analysis. STORET will compel some basic discipline on ways in which TARSA data and information are structured. This sets uniform standards (which currently do not exist) for identifying all sampling stations throughout TARSA. For example, all monitoring stations must include a unique ID for each station, the waterbody type, geographic coordinates, geopositioning datum/method, the state and the subdivision. It will not permit the entry of duplicate data, which is currently possible within existing databases. It will also require uniform nomenclature for descriptions of data results such as consistent chemical and nutrient descriptions and biological organism identifications, which currently may vary within the Administration’s decentralized databases. Furthermore, information from each data manager can be segregated into separate files which control data using a program-specific identification code provided by the EPA, as well as program-specific passwords. These segregated files, referred to in STORET as “Organizations”, provide access security which will limit data entry for specific projects by STORET Organizations.
STORET Organizations (programs) can define preferences or standard operating procedures associated with specific monitoring activities. These can include aids to data entry (e.g., substances tracked by monitoring activities or habitat evaluation criteria), field equipment descriptions, analytical labs and methods, bibliographic references, etc.. This capability does not exist across the currently-employed databases. This allows critical monitoring protocols not generally contained in raw datasets to be linked to monitoring projects and results, thus providing the proper data context to ensure data consistency and repeatability. This regimented approach helps to guarantee the quality of the data used for regulatory decision-making.
EPA may impose requirements in the future for states to use STORET as part of their water quality monitoring and assessment programs. TARSA feels that implementing the STORET package now will improve its business processes and provide a vehicle through which data collected at public expense can be made widely available. Although a final Enterprise Environmental Management System (EEMS) selection has not been made yet, it will have the provision to link to the STORET data.
Data sharing is not only necessary for meeting MDE responsibilities, but valuable for all monitoring groups. Working with the Maryland Water Monitoring Council Data Management Committee, MDE is striving to encourage submission of data in a format that can be loaded into its system. If local governments and volunteer organizations do not already have a data storage system, MDE is encouraging consideration of the EPA STORET system as a means of enhancing the exchange of water quality data. For additional information regarding STORET, please visit www.epa.gov/storet.
For more information, contact Carlton Washburn 410-537-3602 or Matt Rowe 410-537-3578 at the Maryland Department of the Environment.