Science Wednesday: Statistics and Science Improve Water Quality

Each week we write about the science behind environmental protection. Previous Science Wednesdays.

You can’t talk science without talking about statistics! EPA’s statisticians are scattered throughout many different programs and their work supports the work of EPA’s scientists. We even have several statisticians who have been designated as Fellows of the American Statistical Association, a prestigious honor in our field. It’s a great feeling to know that a national statistical organization values the contributions of EPA’s statisticians, and it’s a heady experience to know that I can just pick up the phone or send an email to ask for help from one of the Fellows. They’ve always been very generous with their time and it’s fascinating to hear about their projects. We also have access to talented statistical contractors, and I’ve learned a lot from them.

After 20 years at EPA, I still find my job exciting and challenging. In the Office of Water, statisticians work with scientists and engineers. We move from project to project, learning about the subject matter and figuring out the best way to collect and analyze the data that’s needed. Because we use statistical techniques to select facilities for our surveys, our data analyses produce statistically valid estimates about water conditions for the entire country. Often, we have to find a different statistical technique than we’ve ever applied before for these surveys and data analyses. And then, because we strive to be transparent in statistics and every other aspect of a project, we spend a lot of time writing. Federal Courts have even referred to our documents in upholding water pollution regulations. We also participate in international statistics conferences to share what we’ve done and what we’ve learned about the environment by applying statistical techniques in collecting and analyzing data. We may not be considered a federal “statistical agency” like the Census Bureau, but statistics is very much a part of science at EPA.

About the author: Marla Smith works as a statistician in EPA’s Engineering and Analysis Division within the Office of Water. The Division works to reduce industrial and municipal impacts on water bodies and aquatic life by identifying technological solutions.