Monday, March 17, 2014

the 21st report sez...

Most reports produced in the environmental consulting biz simply recycle the previous/most similar report and update whatever's changed.

We have lots of quarterly/annual/semiannual/5 year reports in the environmental biz. After you've done some sort of cleanup, or it's been determined that your mess is stable, not posing a danger to anybody right now, and the level of effort required to fix it would be all out of proportion to the achievable results, you need to demonstrate that the stuff remaining isn't moving and that there isn't some bit of it that you missed that could cause a problem. So you go out and collect a bunch of samples at the required interval, and then you send out the results. The length of time and the reporting frequency depend on the rules you're working under, but often once you show that not much is happening, you can adjust things so you're analyzing for fewer things, sampling less often, or perhaps just combining the results of several rounds into a single report. Before you can get into those arguments about streamlining, you're going to be analyzing for anything of interest and producing report after report after report.

Clients prefer that you not reinvent the wheel on each report, for two reasons. One, it's much cheaper. Two, it's easier to compare the old and new reports if they're essentially the same from year to year.

When I write periodic reports for sites at which nothing has happened, I do take a little time to clean up the awkward sentences, outdated references, possible trends that didn't pan out, and other detritus that accumulates from having a bunch of reports in a row that have been written by plugging in new numbers. But I can "write" a periodic report of, say, 20 pages, in a couple of hours. Revising the tables and figures takes it up to a day, maybe more if I'm coordinating pieces with other folks and there's some issue that I need to track down.

I've written lots of periodic reports. For me, they're a mindless exercise in checking numbers and editing. But periodic report-writing is ideal for training new environmental folks. Environmental reporting is nothing like what they've produced in college, but periodic reports give them a template that's been reviewed and accepted by a client, and as they work to plug in new results, they get a lot of background about what the sites are actually like and what the data looks like.

1 comment:

Marciepooh said...

When I was doing UST work the reports were dull as milk toast. Particularly the quarterly groundwater monitoring reports, even between sites there was hardly any difference.

Knowing the reports were dull I never imagined anyone at ADEM actually read the things but I assumed they looked at the figures and tables, because those would tell you what was going on. One day we got a letter stating that unless the well "V-1" was sampled every quarter they would not accept the report or authorize payment.

"V-1" was the well put in with every secondary investigation to determine the "vertical extent of the plume," and often was actually in the next shallow, semi-confined water table zone down from where the plume was (wasn't suppose to be, but,...). This means that the water level and benzene levels (BQL) don't map with the other wells, so it was often left off those maps but was put in the tables. Apparently, at ADEM they weren't even bothering to look at the tables or the actual lab reports.