Water monitoring plays a key role in understanding, managing, and minimising the impact a construction project may have on the environment.

Water quality monitoring is often required for road works and other large scale infrastructure projects to ensure compliance with regulatory requirements. It also demonstrates that environmental degradation has not occurred due to the work being undertaken.

Not all water monitoring programs are created equal. A successful water monitoring program needs to include a number of factors for the data and conclusions to be accurate and credible. After many years undertaking water monitoring programs on projects of varying sizes we’ve identified some key factors to ensure your water monitoring program is successful and meets its objectives.

Why undertake water monitoring?
Water monitoring can help identify real-time construction impacts. During construction phase monitoring, the objectives are to identify if water quality problems are occurring as a result of construction activities. It also helps to demonstrate compliance with legal and other monitoring requirements including the water quality criteria and the targets for the project. Monitoring is generally undertaken upstream and downstream of the works.

GeoLINK’s experienced water monitoring specialists
GeoLINK is now into our sixth year of surface and groundwater monitoring for the Woolgoolga to Ballina Sections 3-11 of the Pacific Highway Upgrade. This project is a relative giant in the realm of water quality monitoring projects with the initial scope covering 76 (later revised to 75) individual surface water monitoring points and 145 (incrementally revised to 59) groundwater bores.

Surface water monitoring during the construction period covered 2 monthly events (1 “dry” event and 1 “wet” event) for all sites and an additional monthly event for sites deemed as high risk. Groundwater monitoring during construction was undertaken on a quarterly cycle (4 events annually).

This project has kept our environmental engineers and scientists very busy. Now that the project is in its operation phase and the intensity of the monitoring has reduced, we have the opportunity to reflect on the outcomes and lessons learnt from the monitoring program. Looking retrospectively, we can identify improvements that could be made to ensure future monitoring programs provide productive inputs to limit and prevent environmental damage from construction projects.

What makes a successful water quality monitoring program?
Our Environmental Engineers and Scientists have been undertaking water monitoring programs for almost 30 years. Over that time, they’ve seen significant changes to compliance and regulatory requirements. They’ve also come up with some key factors for all monitoring programs, regardless of the size of the project.

  1. Clearly define the purpose of the monitoring program
    Is the purpose of the monitoring program to demonstrate compliance with environmental conditions, inform remedial actions or both? The monitoring program should be viewed as more than a tick-and-flick exercise purely to demonstrate compliance (or otherwise) with environmental approval conditions. Its purpose it to actively inform on-ground decisions on water conditions, potential construction impacts and measure the success of remedial actions.
  2. Start pre-construction monitoring early and collect as much useful data as possible
    Pre-construction monitoring should be undertaken during the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) phase of the project. Often very little data is collected prior to an infrastructure project. However, insufficient pre-construction data makes it very difficult to determine if observed water quality impacts can be attributed to the construction activity, natural variation or impacts outside the project. Without good pre-construction data the scale of impact from the project is very hard to identify and quantify.During the Woolgoolga to Ballina project, GeoLINK supplemented the pre-construction data with real time upstream (upgradient for groundwater bores) monitoring. This was coupled with some simple statistical analysis to identify results that may or may not be attributable to the project works. For some projects however this approach can be hampered by the lack of connectivity typical of smaller intermittent waterways.
  3. Ensure long-term suitability of groundwater bore locations
    Drilling groundwater bores prior to design finalisation can be a double-edged sword. On one hand it allows for significant data accumulation prior to commencing construction. On the other hand, there is a risk that the bores will need to be removed during construction.Accidental or intentional bore removal during construction can result in both the substantial expense to replace the bore and gaps with data collection. Data gaps can expose a project to incidents where a downgradient groundwater issue is observed with no means available to confirm whether impacts are project related or not. Wherever possible groundwater bores should be situated to allow for some flexibility with final design variation.
  4. Share data early and distribute widely
    For the monitoring program to be effective in influencing construction activities and inform potential remedial actions, all relevant parties need to be kept up to date on the results as they come in.

    Laboratory turnaround times, data compilation and analysis can take time, however once these tasks are completed the information should be widely and transparently distributed. For instance, if the site team including works supervisors and machine operators are aware that water pollution has been recorded from their works area, they are more likely to take proactive measures to prevent further pollution regardless of the direction from site environmental staff or others.

    Additionally, keeping the relevant regulators informed of issues is crucial to developing trust and collaboration. Where results are not regularly and transparently conveyed, potential exceedances are more likely to incur regulatory action.

GeoLINK are proud of our work in delivering the Woolgoolga the Ballina Sections 3-11 water quality monitoring to date and the experience has taught our team a lot. We’re excited to take these learnings through to our next water monitoring projects, be it for a small municipal facility or another nationally significant infrastructure project.  Get in touch with our Environmental Engineering and Science team for information on how we can help.

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