7. Improving Monitoring Efficiency

Page Last modified 20 Apr 2016
3 min read


There are a number of ways to improve the efficiency, and hence cost effectiveness, of monitoring programmes required to meet statutory and international obligations. For example, this could be achieved by:

  • increasing commonalities;
  • removing duplicated or very similar determinands;
  • reporting to one organisation;
  • defining requirements more clearly;
  • having common definitions; and,
  • having the same analytical performance criteria (LoDs etc.).

These features (with others) may be termed ‘best practice’. For a monitoring programme as a whole, best practice would mean giving the maximum possible amount of information for a fixed cost. For an individual survey within a monitoring programme, it means giving sufficient information to address the monitoring objective at the minimum possible cost. The design of monitoring programmes should be based on a carefully considered, rational approach. For example, it is better to define sampling frequency by a statistical approach taking account of determinand variability than to sample 12 times per year just because this was done before.

The survey design should also be as efficient as possible so that it might be possible to obtain the same information for less monitoring effort, or more information for the same monitoring effort. Data analysis should also give the maximum information possible. Any assumptions made in the design should be able to be justified, for example, assumptions about natural variability of particular determinands.

Some of these points have been discussed in the preceding sections. For example, it is probable that Member States will duplicate the purpose of monitoring networks where possible, and, in terms of sample analysis and determinand measurement, there appears to be a good deal of scope for this as detailed methodologies are often not specified. However, where methods do not produce comparable results, and again performance criteria appear to be lacking, particularly in international agreements, the possibility of valid comparisons being made across Europe is limited. For microbiological determinands there does appear to be a strong case for having standardised methods as well as performance criteria to achieve comparable results.

Overlaps in monitoring requirements will depend on there being a common purpose for the monitoring and, in the case of directives, in there being common designations or uses of the water body. There are clear cases where there is a limited degree of overlap between directive and international agreement requirements, especially for monitoring undertaken in Europe’s seas e.g. Baltic, Mediterranean and North Seas.

Having common definitions is obviously important. Definitions can relate to the reporting of specific determinands such as nitrate which could, for example, be expressed as N l-1 or NO3 l-1, making an appreciable (4.4 fold) difference in the value reported. Similarly the inhibition (or not) of nitrification in BOD measurements will significantly affect the reported result. Definitions may also relate to aspects such the definition of ‘bathing waters‘ or ‘bathing season’ which will again lead to national differences in implementation of the monitoring required under directives. Requirements could also be expressed statistically more precisely in terms of the confidence required in the results or in terms of the frequency of sampling.

Project MW2 will create inventories of the monitoring undertaken within each Member State. It may then be possible, depending on the transparency of Member State’s responses, to determine the specific monitoring undertaken to meet each State’s international obligations. It is likely for many sates that the extent of the monitoring network will be far greater than is actually required for these obligations. Other monitoring will be undertaken to meet national requirements and needs. The information from MW2 with that from MW1 will be used in the design of the inland waters monitoring network that will meet the requirements of the European Environment Agency.

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