Language Translation
  Close Menu

External Data Framework

The External Data Framework (EDF) is a process developed by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) Office of Water Quality (OWQ) to provide a systematic, transparent, and voluntary means for external organizations to share their water quality data for consideration and possible use in various OWQ programs.

IDEM OWQ recognizes that many universities, municipalities, watershed groups and grassroots organizations throughout the state participate in water monitoring activities at various scales. There are also regulated facilities that conduct monitoring above and beyond what their permits require. The EDF provides a pathway for greater collaboration between IDEM OWQ and the many individuals and organizations conducting water quality monitoring to help meet the shared goal of improving and protecting Indiana’s water resources.

External Data Framework Participants

The EDF consists of organizations and individuals who volunteer their time to collect information on the status of Indiana waterbodies. There are four main sources of data for the EDF:

  • Hoosier Riverwatch - The Hoosier Riverwatch (HRW) program has been the state’s leading volunteer organization for stream monitoring since 1996. The HRW program provides training through workshops on water chemistry and biological monitoring methods, special topics in water monitoring, and HRW instructor training. Certified volunteers are encouraged to enter their stream water quality data directly into the HRW online database. This database is maintained by IDEM making the data entered by volunteers readily available for additional potential uses by OWQ programs. However, anyone is welcome to search, view, graph, map, or download stream data housed in this database. This tool provides a unique opportunity for volunteers to share data, not only with one another but also with anyone interested in the quality of Indiana's rivers and streams.
  • Clean Lakes Program - The Indiana Clean Lakes Program (CLP) began in 1989 and is administered by the Indiana University School of Public and Environmental Affairs (IU-SPEA) with support from OWQ’s Non-point Source (NPS) program. The Indiana CLP has built and maintained a strong network of volunteers who regularly monitor many of Indiana’s lakes and reservoirs. Volunteers in the CLP send their field observations to IU-SPEA by email or directly enter results through the program web site. Some volunteers also collect water samples, which they send to the CLP laboratory for analysis. As the CLP is funded by an OWQ grant, data collected by CLP volunteers will be automatically considered by OWQ for potential uses in its programs. Data collected by volunteers and IU-SPEA students is available through an interactive map and annual data reports.
  • Non-Point Source Projects - The IDEM OWQ Watershed Planning and Restoration section partners with local watershed groups to reduce non-point source pollution through two different paths. In one option, IDEM works with local watershed groups directly to help them acquire funding through Clean Water Act Section 319(h) and 205(j) Grants for baseline monitoring, planning, development, and implementation of a Watershed Management Plan (WMP). Alternatively, IDEM conducts monitoring and develops a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) report for a watershed with an active local group who will use the TMDL analysis to further develop a WMP. This path also involves funding for local groups through federal grant programs. Both paths ultimately lead to implementation of best management practices to address non-point source pollution and improvements to water quality throughout Indiana. Submission of data through the EDF is required for organizations whose monitoring activities are funded with or used as match for an OWQ NPS program grant.
  • External Data Sources - Many organizations across Indiana conduct water quality monitoring but do not fall into one of the above categories. The data generated by these organizations can be valuable in providing a greater understanding of current water quality conditions across the state. The EDF provides a method for this data to be submitted to OWQ which will then evaluate the data to determine how it can best be used.

Data Accepted by the EDF

Water quality data collected on rivers, streams, lakes, and reservoirs anywhere in Indiana are potentially reliable for the OWQ uses described in EDF regardless of the scope of the study or the geographic scale over which the data are collected. The EDF does not currently accept groundwater monitoring data or data collected from wetlands. Monitoring data may be submitted for sites selected using a targeted study design or from randomly selected sites. IDEM OWQ can accept surface water monitoring results through the EDF for:

  • General chemistry and physical properties
  • Nutrients
  • Metals (surface water and fish tissue)
  • Bacteria
  • Algal toxins
  • Pesticides
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs; surface water and fish tissue)
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs)
  • Volatile and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs and SVOCs)
  • Radionuclides
  • Aquatic biological communities (fish and macroinvertebrates)
  • Habitat evaluations associated with aquatic biological communities

Data Submissions to the EDF

Due to the resources required to provide adequate review of data received, the OWQ cannot accept hardcopy data submittals through the EDF. There are two options for submitting data electronically to OWQ:

  • A Microsoft Excel Template is better for smaller and/or less complex data sets and required for most NPS program grant-funded projects. When you request a template, the EDF Coordinator will ask for sampling site locations and other project information, then send you a customized template to use in submitting your monitoring results.
  • An Electronic Data Import (EDI) is better for organizations with ongoing monitoring programs that provide large and/or complex data sets with some regularity.

These templates are designed to facilitate the entry of your data into OWQ’s Assessment Information Management System (AIMS) database. Entry into AIMS allows OWQ to evaluate your data more efficiently for potential use in OWQ programs and helps to make it readily available to OWQ programs and other organizations that request it.

Evaluations and Use of EDF Data by IDEM OWQ

The premise of the EDF is that all data are potentially useful. The EDF is based on a graded approach that allows for varying levels of data quality depending on the intended use(s) of the data and available resources. Generally, the greater the stakes associated with a potential use, the more scientifically rigorous the data supporting it needs to be.

For the purposes of the EDF, scientific rigor means that the data collection followed documented field, laboratory and data handling procedures and includes sufficient quality control to ensure the quality of the resulting data set is commensurate with its intended use.

Using a graded approach to data quality allows OWQ to accept all readily existing data from external organizations and creates greater opportunity for collaboration. The following table identifies the potential uses in each tier of the EDF based on the relative level of scientific rigor necessary to support them.

EDF Tier Scientific Rigor Potential Uses for Which OWQ Considers the Data Reliable
3 Data must possess a high level of scientific rigor and are reliable for OWQ regulatory decision making
  • Clean Water Act Section 305(b) assessments of beneficial use support and Section 303(d) listing decisions
  • Determining lake trophic level and lake trends for Clean Water Act Section 314 assessments
  • Total maximum Daily Load (TMDL) modeling
  • Determining representative background conditions for the purpose of
    developing National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits
  • Determining or changing the antidegradation classification of a waterbody
  • One or more Tier 2 uses
2 Data must possess a moderate level of scientific rigor and are reliable for non-regulatory decision making by OWQ and the other uses shown
  • Supplementary information for use in planning and prioritization of OWQ monitoring efforts for baseline and other projects
  • Supplementary information for use in planning and prioritizing watersheds for Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) monitoring and development
  • Demonstrating the effectiveness of implementation of measures recommended
    in a watershed management plan or an approved TMDL (incremental improvements that meet U.S. EPA performance measures)
  • Establishing need for low interest loans to assist with formation of regional sewer and water districts (RSWDs)
  • Supplementary information for use in evaluating loan applications for drinking water and wastewater infrastructure improvements through the Indiana State Revolving Loan Fund (SRF)
  • Supplementary information for use in evaluating Clean Water Act Section 401 permit applications and identifying potential wetland mitigation sites
  • Watershed management planning
  • Determining water quality trends over time
  • Increasing public awareness, support and involvement in water quality improvements by demonstrating the effectiveness of measures implemented as recommended in watershed management plans, approved TMDLs, long-term combined sewer overflow (CSO) control plans and municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) permits
  • Screening for potential recreational use issues including human health use
    (lakes and streams) and aesthetics (lakes)
  • All Tier 1 Uses
1 Data are not reliable for decision making either because the data quality is unknown or is based on sound science, but characterized by a low level of scientific rigor
  • Education and raising awareness
  • Supplementary information for total maximum daily load development
  • Supplementary information for OWQ's Integrated Report

OWQ’s process for determining the usability of an external data set is described in detail in the Technical Guidance for the Office of Water Quality External Data Framework. In order to validate the data, OWQ will look for the following types of data quality documentation:

  • A quality assurance project plan (QAPP)
  • Any project-specific planning documents that describe the study design, identify the analytical equipment and methods used, and document the quality assurance and quality control procedures, etc.
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) that describe field, laboratory, or other relevant processes.
  • Published, approved sampling or analytical methods and documents that describe any non-standard analytical methods used.
  • Results from quality control samples and other procedures designed to ensure data quality.

The Benefits of Sharing Your Data with OWQ

Collaboration with OWQ through the EDF may benefit your organization in several ways. For some organizations, having their data used by a state agency may help to ensure continued support for their monitoring efforts from funding institutions and the public. Most external data sets submitted through the EDF are stored in OWQ’s Assessment Information Management System (AIMS), which allows OWQ to upload the data to EPA’s Water Quality Portal. Having your data in the Water Quality Portal makes it available to anyone online, including potential partners and granting institutions.

It is the goal of the EDF to make OWQ’s acceptance criteria for external data transparent so that organizations interested in sharing their data can determine the requirements they need to meet for OWQ to use their data. In addition, the EDF also recommends data quality objectives for other uses to support local level decision-making. These recommendations along with OWQ’s process for evaluating external data for use in its programs can help you determine whether the water quality data you collect or obtain from other sources are reliable for your needs:

  • If your organization is in the process of developing a water quality monitoring study, the EDF guidelines will help you know the types of quality control procedures you might need to ensure the data you collect are reliable for your intended use(s).
  • If you are already monitoring, these guidelines will help you identify any changes you might need to make in your monitoring program to improve the quality of your data, making it reliable for broader use by OWQ and other organizations.
  • The recommendations in the EDF provide data quality benchmarks for water quality data that OWQ considers suitable for several local-level needs, and which can help you evaluate whether data you have obtained from other sources are reliable for your own uses.
  • Adhering to EDF guidelines will help you produce a data set of known quality, enhancing both its credibility and value.

Submission of data through the EDF is voluntary unless your organization’s monitoring activities are funded with or used as match for an OWQ NPS program grant. The EDF does not impose additional requirements on regulated facilities.

Timelines for Submitting Data to the EDF

Data may be submitted to the EDF at any time for consideration by the OWQ for potential use in its programs. OWQ programs can then access data submitted through the EDF at different times depending on their varying needs. Two OWQ programs – the Integrated Reporting and Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) programs have more specific timelines in which they review the data submitted through the EDF. These assessments are generally based on data collected in the most recent five years. For organizations monitoring with a NPS Program grant, project sponsors should consult their grant agreements and/or their OWQ project managers for their specific deadlines.

Regardless of when they are submitted, all data sets are reviewed by OWQ and ranked for their potential use by OWQ programs. These data and their associated quality assurance information can be accessed by other programs within IDEM or the public by request to the External Data Coordinator.

Disclaimers Regarding IDEM's Use of External Data

Data submitted by external organizations will not be used by IDEM to initiate or support enforcement actions against permitted facilities. OWQ’s Compliance and Enforcement Program and Watershed Assessment and Planning Branch work together and with other relevant state and federal agencies to collect the data necessary to support enforcement activities. IDEM has processes in place to follow up on complaints about potential environmental issues and to conduct further investigation when necessary. In cases where external data submitted through the EDF indicates possible permit violations, IDEM will investigate as appropriate in accordance with established policies and procedures.


If you or your organization is interested in learning more about the EDF and how to share your water quality data with IDEM’s Office of Water Quality, you are encouraged to contact OWQ’s External Data Coordinator. If you are monitoring as part of a NPS Program grant project, please contact the External Data Quality Assurance Manager with any questions regarding your options for data submittal. General and Technical Guidance for the Office of Water Quality External Data Framework documents are also available to provide more information on the EDF process as is a Frequently Asked Questions webpage.

External Data Coordinator
IDEM Office of Water Quality
100 North Senate Avenue
MC 65-44 Shadeland
Indianapolis, IN 46204-2251
(317) 308-3081; 800-451-6027 (toll free)

 Top FAQs