State agencies that help protect our land, water and air and manage our natural resources have -- well -- an environmental problem.
The regulations they enforce to reduce pollution and to ensure the wise use of trees, minerals, water and land are generating huge amounts of paper. Businesses must send in forms and documents to show they are abiding by the latest state and federal environmental regulations. Departments of environmental protection and natural resources have to churn out copies of the same documents for lawyers, federal bureaucrats and the public. It adds up to a lot of consumed trees, not to mention the side effects of pollution from pulp production and land development for offices and warehouses to store the paper.
At the same time, paper generated by the permits and regulations consumes scarce government resources to cover the filing, distribution and analysis of the documents. For example, Iowa's Air Quality Bureau processes permits that allow the controlled emission of air pollution in the state. In 1996, the bureau will issue only 283 permits, but one application for a permit can run 7,000 pages.
The bureau received as many as 3 million pages of documents this year, all of which have to be carefully analyzed to ensure the state doesn't allow too much pollution into the air. "We were in a real bind because of all the paper," said Peter Hamlin, chief of the Air Quality Bureau. "We've had to rent warehouse space to help out with storage."
In Utah, where water is a precious natural resource, the story is the same. An individual or business just can't drill a well or tap into nearby surface water. They have to obtain the rights to use the water through a special process that's administered by the state's Division of Water Rights, in the Department of Natural Resources.
Since 1897, Utah has been tracking all state water rights and has on file 8 million pages of documents, all of which are open to public access. As environmental controls tighten and management of limited resources becomes more complex, the amount of regulation in this field can only grow.
To avoid a regulatory collapse brought on by too much paper, state agencies are turning to imaging technology to alleviate the burden of storing, retrieving, distributing and processing documents. Advances in client/server technology, object-oriented software, document management, workflow, relational databases, high-speed scanners, CD-ROM storage and the Internet make the job of protecting and regulating the environment more manageable.
In a report produced by Vermont's Agency of Natural Resources, potential imaging applications include state land records, permit applications, publications, hazardous site manifests, well logs, engineering drawings and permit application site plans, hunting and fishing licenses, staff training and public education.
Despite the numerous possibilities, imaging is a relative newcomer to the field of environmental protection and natural resources. While the number of installations is growing, the imaging applications now in operation are few and their scale is often quite large. Take, for example, Florida's Department of Environmental Protection, which has installed a $7.5 million document imaging system to process documents for the statewide cleanup of underground storage tanks that are contaminating groundwater.
The project involved the complete reengineering of the department in charge of waste cleanup, and a massive backfile conversion of paper documents &endash; of which the state has more than 7 million relating to underground storage tanks alone. The system was built by Digital Equipment Corp., using high-speed Alpha servers, an Oracle database management system and Highland Technologies' Highview imaging and workflow software.
According to John Willmott, bureau chief of the department's information services, the imaging system will significantly advance the department's ability to process the authorization and reimbursement for storage tank removal. "That, in turn, speeds up the protection of Florida's environment," he