B  U  L  L  E  T  I  N

of the American Society for Information Science and Technology   Vol. 31, No. 6   August/September 2005

Go to
Bulletin Index

bookstore2Go to the ASIST Bookstore


Modernizing Waternet: From Print Publishing to the Digital Frontier

by Grant Slade

Grant Slade is senior technical information specialist at American Water Works Association; email: gslade@awwa.org. This article was originally developed as a presentation for the Data Harmony User’s Conference held in Albuquerque in January 2005.

The American Water Works Association (AWWA) is a non-profit membership-driven association dedicated to safe drinking water in the United States and abroad. Founded in 1881 with 22 members, it has grown to over 57,000 members, including 4,700 water utilities in the United States , Canada and Mexico . AWWA is well known to water professionals in North America and worldwide as a leading information resource. As technology continues to evolve, AWWA has also attempted to evolve its strategy for information dissemination. This paper discusses the technical efforts AWWA has made in that regard, migrating from being a print publishing house into the digital frontier.

Waternet Metadata

Information circulation has been important to the everyday dealings of AWWA for over 124 years. With a complex membership structure, a vast volunteer network and more than 57,000 members, databases have also played a key role in tracking member and customer data. Ironically, however, one of the databases (Waternet) that will be core to the association's modern plan to rapidly deliver content to the public has been largely an afterthought during its 26-year life span (see Figure 1).  

FIGURE 1 History of Waternet



1979 to 1981

Created and tested internally at AWWA & Sections

1981 to Present

Offered through Dialog’s Online Service in Dialog File Format B (File 245)


Put into relational database (Advanced Revelation)

1995 to Present

Offered on Folio Infobase Software (CD ROM subscriptions)


Purchased Dataharmony Suite


Waternet links to CMS (Opentext Livelink)


Waternet links to Intranet using Cold Fusion

Founded in 1979, Waternet is a comprehensive bibliographic database encompassing water-related literature from 1971 to the present day. Although Waternet includes references from many major water industry publishers, its mission continues to be to maintain a master record of literature published by the American Water Works Association. At the time of this writing, Waternet contained more than 55,000 records, adding approximately 2,000 more each year.

Waternet is essentially a database of metadata for the publications of the association. It contains approximately 30 fields of data that relate to bibliographic content, such as the title, publication year, publisher, authors and an abstract written by staff technical information specialists. Figure 2 is a sample record that customers might see from the Waternet database. The accession number, a seven-digit zero-padded primary key, was originally used to retrieve literature from AWWA's bookshelves, although today the Waternet database can directly link to PDF (Adobe’s Portable Document Format) representations of the documents or to online locations where customers have the option of purchasing documents.  

FIGURE 2.  Sample Waternet Database Record

Title:                            Benefiting from a Decision Support System at Tampa Bay Water:
A Case Study

Accession Number:      0060045

Author:                         Adams, Alison --- Nero, Wendy --- Emanuel, Richard

Corporate Source:       Tampa Bay Water, Clearwater, FL --- CH2M HILL, Inc.,
Tampa, FL --- CH2M HILL, Inc., Orlando, FL

Publisher:                    AWWA

Pub Abbreviation:       ACE

Conference Title:         2004 Annual Conference Proceedings; American Water
Works Association

Conf. Location:            Orlando , FL

Meeting Date:              June 13-17, 2004

Publication Date:         2004

Page Count:                 15

Language:                   English

Non-Text:                     2 references, figures

Document Type:          Conf Proc

Media Type:                 PDF

Availability:                 AWWA

Descriptors:                  Tampa, Florida --- Regulations --- Management ---
Databases --- Compliance --- Costs --- Optimization --- Performance
--- Strategic Planning --- Information Management

Abstract:                     Tampa Bay Water, Florida's largest wholesale water supplier, together with its member governments, supplies approximately 240 million gallons per day (mgd) of potable water to nearly two million people in the Tampa Bay area of Florida. Beginning in 2003, Tampa Bay Water's groundwater sources were reduced due to environmental impacts and regulatory constraints, and replaced with surface water and desalted water. Since 1998 Tampa Bay Water's Board has authorized $1.25 billion for infrastructure investment to support environmental recovery. Tampa Bay Water determined that a decision support system (DSS) would improve its decision-making effectiveness as new, diverse water sources were placed into operation. Tampa Bay Water's DSS is a custom-developed user-interface (referred to as the DSS Manager) which provides access into the agency's enterprise database, allowing users to query data, extract data, conduct analysis on the data, and generate reports and provides access to certain models which are used in source forecasting and optimization. Immediate benefits to Tampa Bay Water include: increasing the agency's efficiency in operating the new supply sources; enhance effective management of Tampa Bay Water's complex water supply/resource systems; improve the agency's data collection, storage, and retrieval process to maximize environmental and cost benefits; facilitate regulatory compliance; and, provide for consistent and uniform decision-making in a complex and dynamic water supply environment. During a two-year period, Tampa Bay Water conducted a Needs and Assessment Study (Phase I), completed the development of several large-scale applications as well as implemented a redesign of its enterprise database (Phase II implementation). Phase I identified and prioritized 14 requirements that represent new or enhanced water supply functions essential to the agency. Alternatives were defined to meet these 14 requirements and a Phase II implementation plan developed. This paper discusses the approach used to develop the agency's DSS, lessons learned during the development and implementation of this DSS by Tampa Bay Water, and use of this approach in meeting operational and planning supply management objectives.

Migration from Print to Digital

Prior to 1997 AWWA was almost exclusively a print publisher. Unlike the above referenced record, where you see that the media type for the document referenced is "PDF," all publications and literature were released in a print format. Each Waternet record corresponded to a physical document on the shelf of AWWA's onsite technical library.

In 1997, with the traditional paper document delivery system still in place, AWWA began to publish some of its content, most notably conference proceedings, in a CD-ROM format. The ramifications of this were not completely realized at the time, and there were some growing pains, but by the time Y2K rolled around, AWWA had become primarily a PDF publisher, recognizing the obvious benefits of having its literature in electronic format.

With the huge popularity of the Web, customers had also begun to expect content to be delivered to them through this medium. Additionally, digital content like text documents, videos and PowerPoint presentations contained valuable information that needed to be cataloged for later retrieval. All of these extensions proved to be challenging to AWWA and its staff, not only for the document creators, but also for Waternet staff that needed to keep track of all of the new types of content.

Publications that had long been print-based began to publish content to the Internet. Mainstream, AWWA’s longstanding membership newsletter, started publishing to the Web, naming itself E-Mainstream, complete with a new ISSN number and new volume and issue numbers. Complicating matters, the print edition of Mainstream was still released on a bimonthly basis in conjunction with E-Mainstream. However, titles on the Web edition were reduced to make room in the browser, leading to slightly different titles for the same content! In 2005 AWWA made the decision to index and abstract only the Web version of Mainstream, abandoning the print version altogether.

While AWWA had made a wise move in beginning to publish documents in PDF, very little thought was given to how Waternet would track these new media types. By 2000, thousands of PDF documents were stored on various CDs or Zip disks throughout the building, with no tracking method in place nor any method for rapid retrieval of this content. This uncontrolled proliferation was a two-fold problem. First, there was no dialog between the Waternet team and staff creating the new PDF documents or other electronic media. Second, the Waternet database itself was mired in an inflexible data model, and staff lacked technical expertise in the DBMS (database management systems) software.

Migration to new DBMS Technology

For over a decade it had been apparent that Waternet would need to track digital media. With the increasing number of PDFs being produced, however, it became critical to get them into the system sooner rather than later. As mentioned, prior to 2000, Waternet had continued to track documents in print format only. This practice was partly the result of a lack of strategy for digital file management and partly because of a lack of technical expertise in the DBMS AWWA was using at the time. Although it was a powerful DBMS, staff lacked the support and training required to exploit it. Additionally, the data model originally employed fostered some inflexibility in being able to modify the database. In 2000 AWWA made the decision to switch to a more flexible and modern software system called the Data Harmony Suite (www.accessinn.com). This change has paid huge dividends both in staff productivity and in the portability of the data.


Whereas the software Waternet employed from 1995-2000 was a DBMS constructed to manage bibliographic data, Data Harmony was designed from the beginning to be a bibliographic data management system. There are three components: XIS (XML Intranet System), TM (Thesaurus Master) and MAI (Machine-Aided Indexing). Although this paper focuses primarily on XIS for the DBMS side, TM and MAI have also been extremely important in managing the thesaurus hierarchy and the automatic, intelligent assignment of keywords. XIS replaced the old DBMS, and immediate results were recognized. The older database used a three-stage batch system in which records were duplicated across three tables. The first table contained “incomplete” records, the second table contained “complete” records that were awaiting editing, while the final table contained the “edited” records that were ready for public consumption. Programming had been written to support this batch style of data management, but the database utilized a proprietary scripting language that staff was unfamiliar with. Any modifications to the database required external support and complete reprogramming of routines to ensure data integrity across the three tables.

This situation was inefficient and costly and often caused great delays for simple tasks such as merely adding a new field. Additionally, the database ran in a DOS environment from client PCs. While this environment was adequate at the time, XIS offered new methods for entering and manipulating data. Perhaps the greatest bonus at the time the Data Harmony was installed was that XIS employed a browser interface for entering data, rather than requiring specialized software on each machine. As long as editors had a browser and access to the Internet, they could enter or manipulate data from wherever they were located.

Use of Standards

XIS, TM and MAI are written entirely in Java, storing data in XML. As Java and XML have become industry standards, AWWA is no longer locked into a proprietary DBMS, reliant on external vendor support for minor changes. While technical expertise is necessary to run the new system, there is a wealth of literature and training about these areas of technology. Additionally, most modern database systems now accommodate XML, so Waternet data is easily portable to new systems.

Waternet, the Intranet and CMS

AWWA has made several technological leaps since 2000. In 2001 AWWA overhauled its website, moving away from tens of thousands of static html pages to a completely dynamic Web powered by ColdFusion (www.macromedia.com/software/coldfusion/). In 2002 AWWA also decided to purchase OpenText Livelink (www.opentext.com/), a powerful enterprise-level content management system to assist staff in organizing their own content. XIS has allowed AWWA to merge the Waternet database into both of these new technologies through the use of Java to act as a bridge between the two. Waternet is now offered on the Intranet pushed from XIS through a ColdFusion interface. The metadata is also being added to objects in Livelink as editors create new digital content. XIS still acts as the master container for the Waternet data, but it has become quite portable to any system that has a Java interface, such as the OpenText Livelink API (LAPI) or ColdFusion, which has an ability to instantiate Java objects.


Although Waternet has had some trials, it has largely persevered due to its innate value in tracking the association’s content in a consistent manner. It has also greatly benefited from the use of tools that enhance its ability to adapt and change with the times. As digital content continues to evolve, Waternet must evolve with it. By using technology built on industry standards such as Java and XML, Waternet has the ability to do just that.

How to Order

American Society for Information Science and Technology
8555 16th Street, Suite 850, Silver Spring, Maryland 20910, USA
Tel. 301-495-0900, Fax: 301-495-0810 | E-mail:

Copyright © 2005, American Society for Information Science and Technology