EPA cures an unusual date problem by rewriting and upgrading software

Modernizing an Environmental Protection Agency database that tracks the condition of
the nation’s water will make it ready for 1999, as well as 2000, EPA officials said.

Storage and Retrieval (STORET), created in 1963, uses the figure 99 to indicate that
data from a particular water sampling station has ended and will be followed by data from
another, said Louis Hoelman, a STORET systems manager.

“With this system, we had a 1999 and 2000 problem,” he said.

EPA programmers had to first rewrite and upgrade the database software—which was
written in PL/1, Cobol, Fortran and assembly languages—at a cost of $4.5 million,
Hoelman said.

The new STORET system does not yet contain data. EPA won’t transfer data from the
old system to the new, Hoelman said. Instead, owners of the data—scientists and
researchers who do the sampling—will decide when to transfer the data to the new

A legacy data center maintains the old STORET data in an Oracle Corp. database at
EPA’s National Computing Center in Research Triangle Park, N.C. There it will stay
until the data is moved onto the new STORET, also at Research Triangle Park.

“It is not as robust as what we are calling new STORET,” Hoelman said.

STORET will eventually contain water testing data from federal agencies, state and
local governments, research institutions, American Indian tribes and citizen volunteers.
EPA doesn’t require states and local governments to provide the data, but most do,
Hoelman said. Most states use the system to generate water quality reports they are
required to file with EPA every two years, he said.

The new STORET will have a lot more functionality, Hoelman said. Those submitting data
for the old system indicate where and when the tests occurred, Hoelman said. Users of the
new system will be able to input additional data, such as who did the tests, why the tests
were conducted and the methodology used, he said.

The new system will also require a lot more memory, Hoelman said. The old system was
designed to hold 120,000 data tests from 120 sampling stations.

STORET will eventually hold about 300 million data tests from 800,000 sampling
stations. It will probably be one of the biggest databases in the country, smaller only
than some at NASA and the IRS, Hoelman said.

The old system resides on an IBM ES/9000 mainframe. The new STORET uses an Oracle
relational database management system that runs under Unix.

Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego, which manages EPA’s systems
development center in Arlington, Va., developed the software for the system.

EPA began distributing STORET on CD-ROM earlier this month. State and local governments
and others that conduct water sampling will load the software onto their PCs, enter the
data and store it there until they export it to STORET’s data warehouse over the
Internet, Hoelman said.

Data on the server can be locked up so that those searching the system cannot get at
proprietary research data, Hoelman said. But 90 percent of the data is generally
accessible, he said.   

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