In Reply Refer To:
Mail Stop 415

August 13, 2014


SUBJECT: Requirement to use Office of Water Information electronic field forms for all discharge measurements and streamgage inspections

Policy: All discharge measurements and streamgage inspections made at U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) streamgages are required to be documented using Office of Water Information (OWI) developed and supported electronic field forms. All discharge measurement and inspection data that is entered and imported into the OWI electronic field forms is required to be input into the USGS National Water Information System (NWIS) through automated uploading processes. Situations will arise in the field related to weather or computer issues when the electronic field forms are unable to be used. In these situations, paper notes should be used and, as soon as feasible, all information must be entered into electronic field forms to be uploaded into NWIS. All paper notes, including those on official forms and those on blank pieces of paper, that are created in such situations are considered 'original' and should be scanned and stored with the electronic field form generated file in accordance with Water Science Center (WSC) digital storage policy.

Background: In 2010 the Surface WAter Measurement and Inspection (SWAMI) field form was developed for the Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) platform and in 2011 a Personal Computer (PC) version, SWAMI_PC, was released. The initial development of these electronic surface-water field forms was a grassroots effort that began in the Maine and Louisiana WSCs. In 2002 OWI created the Field Computing Integration and Support (FCIS) project to further develop and support electronic field forms for the USGS.

Since the release of the electronic surface-water field forms, usage throughout USGS WSCs has steadily increased. In calendar year 2013 more than 75 percent (86,000 of 115,000) of all discharge measurements and streamgage inspections were documented and uploaded using either the SWAMI or SWAMI_PC field forms.

Currently, SWAMI and SWAMI_PC are the available field forms. The SiteVisit Mobile (SV_Mobile) field forms are in development and should be released in the near future. It is expected with time that OWI will develop and support other forms for different computing platforms.

Discussion: There are many advantages to using electronic field forms to document and upload discharge measurement information These advantages include increased efficiencies in data collection and database input, more assured adherence to existing USGS data-collection policies, facilitation of training, national standardization of measurement documentation, comprehensive input of all field-collected data, and increased opportunities for expanded product offerings derived from flow measurement data.

Electronic field forms are efficient in that the information being documented in the field is only manually input in the field. Upon returning to the office, the field file is simply uploaded into NWIS. Checking for transcription errors is no longer required.

USGS surface-water data collection methods are well documented in numerous Techniques of Water Resource Investigations (TWRI) reports, Techniques and Methods (T&M) reports, Water Supply Papers (WSP), and Office of Surface Water (OSW) Technical Memoranda. USGS electronic field forms have been and will continue to be designed such that these well-established methods and policies are embedded in them. This is most notable in the programed required elements of the individual field-visit tasks. By designing the forms and workflow such that they adhere to USGS methods and policies, uniformity in discharge measurement documentation can be assured nationally.

The ability to capture and preserve more elements of a measurement or site inspection is perhaps one of the greatest benefits of using the electronic field forms. All of the information that was input is added to NWIS in some capacity, something that is not possible when manually entering data from a paper form. Once uploaded, even information elements not yet defined in NWIS can be searched through scripting language when desired. Discharge measurement details such as the data associated with individual observation verticals of a mid-section measurement are able to be loaded. This holds true for measurements computed using third party programs with files that can be uploaded into the electronic field forms. Measurement summaries output by third party computational programs associated with moving-boat acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) measurements also can be uploaded into the field forms for eventual upload into NWIS. Useful information contained in measurement summaries (that is currently undefined in NWIS) includes such things as advanced instrument settings, diagnostic tests, and other important auxiliary information.

Having all discharge measurements and inspections made at USGS streamgages documented and uploaded using the OWI developed and supported electronic field forms will provide extensive quality assurance opportunities and increased efficiencies. Questions concerning the policies outlined in this memo may be addressed to Jim Kolva (


Robert R. Mason, Jr.
Deputy Chief, Office of Surface Water

Distribution: GS-W All