A cooperative study between the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and the U.S. Geological Survey was conducted to assess the integrity of selected water-quality data collected at 150 sites in the FDEP Surface-Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) in Florida. The assessment included determining the consistency of the water-quality data collected statewide, including commonality of monitoring procedures and analytes, screening of the gross validity of a chemical analysis, and quality assurance and quality control (QA/QC) procedures. Four tests were used to screen data at selected SWAMP sites to estimate the gross validity of selected chemical data: (1) the ratio of dissolved solids (in milligrams per liter) to specific conductance (in microsiemens per centimeter); (2) the ratio of total cations (in milliequivalents per liter) multiplied by 100 to specific conductance (in microsiemens per centimeter); (3) the ratio of total anions (in milliequivalents per liter) multiplied by 100 to specific conductance (in microsiemens per centimeter); and (4) the ionic charge-balance error. Although the results of the four screening tests indicate that the chemical data generally are quite reliable, the extremely small number of samples (less than 5 percent of the total number of samples) with sufficient chemical information to run the tests may not provide a representative indication of the analytical accuracy of all laboratories in the program. In addition to the four screening tests, unusually low or high values were flagged for field and laboratory pH (less than 4.0 and greater than 9.0) and specific conductance (less than 10 and greater than 10,000 microsiemens per centimeter). The numbers of flagged data were less than 1 percent of the 19,937 water samples with pH values and less than 0.6 percent of the 16,553 water samples with specific conductance values.
Thirty-four agencies responded to a detailed questionnaire that was sent to more than 60 agencies involved in the collection and analysis of surface-water-quality data for SWAMP. The purpose of the survey was to evaluate quality assurance methods and consistency of methods statewide. Information was compiled and summarized on monitoring network design, data review and upload procedures, laboratory and field sampling methods, and data practices. Currently, most agencies that responded to the survey follow FDEP-approved QA/QC protocol for sampling and have quality assurance practices for recording and reporting data. Also, most agencies responded that calibration procedures were followed in the laboratory for analysis of data, but no responses were given about the specific procedures. Approximately 50 percent of the respondents indicated that laboratory analysis methods have changed over time. With so many laboratories involved in analyzing samples for SWAMP, it is difficult to compare water quality from one site to another due to different reporting conventions for chemical constituents and different analytical methods over time. Most agencies responded that calibration methods are followed in the field, but no specific details were provided. Grab samples are the most common method of collection.
Other data screening procedures are necessary to further evaluate the validity of chemical data collected at SWAMP sites. High variability in the concentration of targeted constituents may signal analytical problems, but more likely changes in concentration are related to hydrologic conditions. This underscores the need for accurate measurements of discharge, lake stage, tidal stage at the time of sampling so that changes in constituent concentrations can be properly evaluated and fluxes (loads) of nutrients or metals, for example, can be calculated and compared over time.