OptaHub recently released an automated groundwater monitoring report application for environmental businesses. Hydrogeologist Jim Driscall dives in to see how it works and whether it’s worth your time.
OptaHub officially launched its groundwater monitoring software in an effort to help environmental businesses reduce errors and increase profitability. This is a great initiative, as many companies are experiencing pressure to reduce costs yet maintain quality.
OptaHub’s Allan Blanchard made the announcement in a post titled the Pros and Cons of Groundwater Report Automation on Tuesday, June 13:
Environmental consultants spend a lot of time and resources generating groundwater monitoring reports for their clients. The consultants are under a lot of pressure to deliver quality reports that are on time and competitively priced. There are automation technologies that could automate the entire report generation process but consultants have been reluctant to adopt them.
OptaHub is a free tool (for the first three projects) that allows environmental professionals to create a comprehensive groundwater monitoring report in just a few minutes. It’s easy, and you can upload data and create a complete report that includes maps, tables, statistical charts, and summary analysis that you can edit from your computer or your phone.
Only individuals with logins and passwords are able to access the project dashboard.
The Project Dashboard allows me to see all projects and also enables me to individually select each project, so as to avoid mixing them up. The dashboard also depicts graphs of data trends so I can see at a glance how my project is progressing.
Laboratory Data Upload and Historical Data Upload
Data can instantly be uploaded from laboratory reports and is ready to go with a click of the ‘Upload’ button. All of the data is automatically saved to the cloud database.
I can also upload historical data from years ago or from past monitoring periods and save it to the cloud database. OptaHub can use this historical data to depict historical trends generated from the uploaded data.
Oftentimes when switching to new software, the data must be manually inputted into the program. Not only does the automatic data upload feature save time, it also eliminates human error during data entry.
Gauging Data User Interface
All I have to do is select ‘Data Upload,’ go to each monitoring well, and upload the data by clicking the location, entering the data, and clicking ‘Submit.’ This feature is very simple to use, and the well gauging data can be easily added to the cloud database.
Data Table Generator
To use the data table generator, I select any start date and end date to include only the specific data I want to see in my table. Once completed, the table is able to be downloaded as an Excel spreadsheet or a PDF file with any MCL exceedances automatically highlighted in red.
In the statistics generator, I can choose the date range for the data I want to see. It will provide trend line charts using the Mann-Kendall statistical analysis based upon the selected date range and the specific chemical selections that were chosen. These trend charts will show how concentrations of specific chemicals have changed over time.
The map generator automatically generates a map in the report. However, if I only want to create a single map, that option is also available.
Once the map image is uploaded, it is easy to generate multiple contour maps in seconds for any data set. Depending upon user preference, standard contours or heat contours can be generated in seconds. I do not need to have surveyed x-y well coordinates or a calibrated map. The software allows me to use any map image and to pick x-y coordinates of monitoring wells can be generated on the map with just a few clicks.
When using the report generator I am able to create one PDF file that contains all of the aspects explained above, or I can choose which ones I want to include in my report. The report can also contain the following:
- outline of sample events
- range of gauging and sample results
- remedial progress
- statistical analysis results
- MCL exceedances
- sampling data table
- trend graphs
- contour maps for water table elevation
- contour maps for user-selected chemicals
Or, I can choose just a few of these factors to include in my report.
What are some of the pros and cons of using OptaHub?
So how does OptaHub hold up, particularly with regard to different state and client requirements? Here are my thoughts.
- My data is in the cloud, backed up and in one place.
- This software truly is a time saver. I no longer have to wait for others (admin, drafting, etc.) to complete various aspects of the report.
- OptaHub is very affordable, especially considering all of the aspects it has to offer. And, unlike the major players in the environmental software market, there are no seat licenses and no maintenance agreements.
- The centralization of all of my information is extremely convenient. I no longer have to click through multiple programs just to organize my data. I especially never have to re-enter data in to a different program.
- The maps and reports are very easy to edit and change.
- The final reports that are generated are logically arranged and look very professional.
- The final product—whether it is a full report or only a map—will satisfy state requirements and will ensure all of the client’s environmental concerns are addressed.
- When creating a complete groundwater monitoring report, I’ve noticed that the only place you can write information is in the ‘Notes’ section. While I can edit this section however I want, the formatting disappears when the report is printed. The notes section is only good for writing a single paragraph. If information is presented on a separate line, it will be appended onto the previous line. You cannot cut and paste info into this section. Because of this, I have to use a separate program to add additional information and formatting, convert it to a PDF, and append it to the report. Not a deal breaker, but it does add an extra step to creating a final report.
- As for changing the maps, some users may not like how the default contour intervals are presented. It may take some tinkering around with the editing options to achieve the desired final product. I have actually found the default contours to be perfect for most of my reports. Once I learned the advanced mapping features, it did not take long to generate custom contours or heat map contours.
- If I want to add something to my map that isn’t automatically generated—such as flow direction arrows or more data, for example—I have to use a separate program to add an extra data box.
- There is no option to create a box map. In order to see multiple parameters, I have to make two separate maps—although it only takes a few seconds.
- The software can only complete routine groundwater monitoring reports. The tables, maps, and statistical analyses can be extracted and used to create complex reports such as Site Characterizations or Remedial Action Plans, but it will not generate a complete report. The software also does not work with soil or air quality data and does not keep track of product recovery data. OptaHub simply is not equipped to include that information.
Should Environmental Professionals use OptaHub to host their data and generate maps and reports?
As usual, the answer is, “It depends.” If you are looking for a software product that manages all of your environmental data—field observations, soil, air, water, etc.—OptaHub may not yet meet all of your needs. However, if you are looking to save time and money to manage groundwater data and create professional-looking groundwater monitoring reports, OptaHub is definitely a great choice.
I found OptaHub intuitive and very easy to learn. Collaboration with other users is also easy with all data and reports in one place, eliminating the need to hand your project to someone else (like drafting or database management) and wait for them to return it. With OptaHub, there is no down time or waiting for various sections to be completed.
If you need to create a complex report such as a Corrective Action Plan, Remedial Action Plan, or Site Closure report, the software cannot automatically generate the report—and I do not know of any other software that can. However, the database, table, map, and statistics generation features in OptaHub can be used to expedite creation of those reports as well as reduce the opportunity for errors.
The software has some limitations, but for the price it is definitely worth checking out.
If you would like to upgrade your environmental consulting business, please visit OptaHub.com to check out the software. If you have any other questions, contact OptaHub Support directly at firstname.lastname@example.org, or check out these related articles:
Jim Driscall is a Hydrogeologist with EMS Environmental in Syracuse, NY. Jim is responsible for project management and regulatory reporting at numerous environmental investigations involving a wide variety of contaminants throughout the northeastern U.S.