The National Academies

ACRP 02-53 [Completed]

Interpreting Airport Water Monitoring Results

  Project Data
Funds: $250,000
Research Agency: Gresham, Smith and Partners
Principal Investigator: Timothy Arendt
Effective Date: 8/8/2014
Completion Date: 6/30/2016


Airport staff have occasion to review the results of various types of water monitoring and analytical tests, typically in the context of regulatory compliance or liability. The interpretation of these results often leads to important and sometimes costly conclusions regarding environmental and human health risks; regulatory compliance; reporting and response obligations; potential sources, responsibilities, and effectiveness of existing controls; and appropriate mitigation actions.

Typically, airport practitioners with environmental responsibilities have a basic understanding of the water quality parameters required for routine compliance monitoring, such as Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), Oil & Grease, Fecal Coliforms, and Total Suspended Solids (TSS). Inexperienced or new practitioners may have a limited understanding of, and comfort with interpretation of water quality parameters that are not so commonly encountered, such as Total Organic Carbon, Nitrate, Naphthalene, Zinc, Acetate, and Whole Effluent Toxicity (WET). Faced with the need to interpret and respond to monitoring/analytical results that include unfamiliar or not-well-understood water quality parameters, airport staff do not have an industry-specific standard reference that they can refer to. Instead, their available options consist of researching the parameters that may not be specific to the airport context or that they may not fully understand, contacting their peers at other airports who may have relevant experience, or procuring technical assistance. Not understanding water quality results can lead to poor decisions, inability to accurately identify sources, over-reliance on outside expertise, and a general increase in risk. Having a sound fundamental understanding of the parameter(s) of interest in the airport context will lead to reduced risk of misinterpretation and better decision making.


The objectives of this research are to develop a guidebook and a set of tools that operators of commercial service and general aviation airports of varying sizes can use to understand, diagnose, and interpret airport water quality monitoring results. The guidebook and tools should be user friendly, visual, and intuitive–using decision trees, flow charts, case studies, spreadsheets, tables, checklists, charts, diagrams, and other means to assist the user.The guidebook should address water leaving the airport that does not go to an off-site treatment facility. It should help practitioners in field situations interpret the water testing results, and assist in diagnosing root causes and possible sources of specific problems that may require attention or mitigation. The guidebook also should include: (1) data requirements (i.e., water sample, biological sample, flow characteristics, sampling parameters, field testing techniques, analytical protocol and methodology, detection limits); (2) data sources (e.g., location, timing, or frequency of sampling); (3) understanding data (i.e., interpreting the results – are they good, bad, an indicator of regulatory implications, an indication of another issue, cause for further investigation; or is there a link between the chemicals used on the airport and how each may impact the outflow from the airport; etc.); and (4) follow-up action(s) (e.g., generalized responses that may be available or triggered by various data results), such as further guidance for additional testing or reporting needs to aid in deeper investigations of monitoring results.The guidebook should also examine the synergistic effects of related testing parameters and results and should offer tools and methods to ease decision making, help airports with corrective responses, and communicate results to stakeholders. The guidebook and tools should consider and explain the myriad variables that are present when sampling. For example, it may be necessary to use a non-storm-event timeframe to sample ground water as a way to understand test results that could be influenced by ground water. The guidebook should also include: methods (analytical versus field test) used in measuring water quality constituents; quality assurance/quality control methods and interpretation; regulatory implications; other criteria for evaluating concentrations of different constituents in different types of samples; and implications for human and ecological health. The tools and guidebook will be organized and presented to facilitate and ease its use in interpreting and acting upon monitoring results, as well as selecting water quality parameters for monitoring to address specific objectives and questions.

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