Innovation: NRA system to keep up with the flow

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The Independent Online
The National Rivers Authority is spending pounds 10mon a water- quality computer system to replace dozens of incompatible systems it inherited from the water companies when it was set up in 1989. This means that for the first time, the authority will be able to ensure water standards are applied consistently.

Installation of the Water Archive and Monitoring System (Wams) began in June, and when it is fully implemented in 18 months time, it will provide a complete archive of water quality, quantity and biological data for all rivers, estuaries, lakes, underground and coastal waters in England and Wales.

The NRA chief executive, Ed Gallagher, said Wams would be fundamental to the success of the NRA in meeting statutory duties and responsibilities through the provision of consistent national reporting.

The system will also encourage a single culture in an organisation that was put together from bits of 10 former water authorities, each with different practices. 'Wams will enable one core set of rules to be defined. But there will be scope for variation in the regions without anarchy,' said Peter Williams, who is responsible for the project.

Eventually more than 2,000 people will be using the system across the NRA's eight regions. Data on water quality - which involves complex chemical and biological analysis of water samples - will be input to Wams from the NRA's laboratory information systems. Water quantity and flow data will come from the authority's telemetry network.

The NRA is almost at the point where it no longer relies on any of the water companies to provide this information, although some data is still shared.

The data will be presented in tabular, graphical and geographical forms. The system is expected to free such NRA specialists as hydrologists from number-crunching.

Interpretation of water standards is a minefield, which is why the NRA needs a system as sophisticated as, and independent from, the water companies' own. Standards also vary with the volume of water flow and the time of the year.

The NRA worked with the system integrator, Logica, to make Wams flexible enough to cope with legislativechanges. It would be able to accommodate the proposed merger of the NRA with Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Pollution to form an environmental agency.

Mr Williams said no similar watchdog had produced such an archive system. Several overseas organisations are tracking the development.

(Photograph omitted)