Community-based watershed groups, many of which collect environmental data, have steadily increased in number over the last decade. The data generated by these programs are often underutilized due to uncertainty in the quality of data produced. The incorporation of data-quality measures into stakeholder monitoring programs lends statistical validity to data. Data-quality measures are divided into three steps: quality assurance, quality control, and quality assessment. The quality-assurance step attempts to control sources of error that cannot be directly quantified. This step is part of the design phase of a monitoring program and includes clearly defined, quantifiable objectives, sampling sites that meet the objectives, standardized protocols for sample collection, and standardized laboratory methods. Quality control (QC) is the collection of samples to assess the magnitude of error in a data set due to sampling, processing, transport, and analysis. In order to design a QC sampling program, a series of issues needs to be considered: (1) potential sources of error, (2) the type of QC samples, (3) inference space, (4) the number of QC samples, and (5) the distribution of the QC samples. Quality assessment is the process of evaluating quality-assurance measures and analyzing the QC data in order to interpret the environmental data. Quality assessment has two parts: one that is conducted on an ongoing basis as the monitoring program is running, and one that is conducted during the analysis of environmental data. The discussion of the data-quality measures is followed by an example of their application to a monitoring program in the Big Thompson River watershed of northern Colorado.
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USGS Numbered Series
Data-quality measures for stakeholder-implemented watershed-monitoring programs