A Review of Data Quality and Cost Considerations for Water Quality Monitoring at the Field Scale and in Small Watersheds

Robert Daren Harmel, Heather Elise Preisendanz, Kevin Wayne King, Dennis Busch, Francois Birgand, Debabrata Sahoo

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Technological advances and resource constraints present scientists and engineers with renewed challenges in the design of methods to conduct water quality monitoring, and these decisions ultimately determine the degree of project success. Many professionals are exploring alternative lower-cost options because of cost constraints, and research and development is largely focused on in situ sensors that produce high temporal resolution data. While some guidance is available, contemporary information is needed to balance water quality monitoring decisions with financial and personnel constraints, while meeting data quality needs. This manuscript focuses on monitoring constituents, such as sediment, nutrients, and pathogens, at the field scale and in small watersheds. Specifically, the impacts on the costs and data quality of alternatives related to site selection, discharge measurement, and constituent concentration measurement, are explored. The present analysis showed that avoiding sites requiring extensive berm construction and the installation of electric power to reach distant sites greatly reduces the initial costs with little impact on data quality; however, other decisions directly impact data quality. For example, proper discharge measurement, high-frequency sampling, frequent site and equipment maintenance, and the purchase of backup power and monitoring equipment can be costly, but are important for high quality data collection. In contrast, other decisions such as the equipment type (mechanical samplers, electronic samplers, or in situ sensors) and whether to analyze discrete or composite samples greatly affect the costs, but have minimal impact on data quality. These decisions, therefore, can be based on other considerations (e.g., project goals, intended data uses, funding agency specifications, and agency protocols). We hope this guidance helps practitioners better design and implement water quality monitoring to satisfy resource constraints and data quality needs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number3110
JournalWater (Switzerland)
Issue number17
StatePublished - Sep 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Biochemistry
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Aquatic Science
  • Water Science and Technology

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