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Water Quality Award Goes To UNR Educator

Water Quality Award Goes To UNR Educator

WETLAB would like to congratulate Susan Donaldson, University of Nevada Cooperative Extension water quality education specialist, on receiving the McCurry Excellence in Water Quality award!

Presented by the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Donaldson was recognized earlier this month for her extensive and long-time contributions to water quality in Nevada.

Highlights in Donaldson’s work in the field of water quality include leading a statewide tall whitetop and noxious weed education campaign, where she received a Silver Spike Award of Excellence, she established the Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officials Nevada Program to provide water quality education for land-use decision making, she partnered with public agencies to create the Water Wise Program, and she launched a pesticide applicator safety training website with the Nevada Department of Agriculture, according to an article from Nevada Today, University of Nevada, Reno.

She has presented her work around the world, speaking at the 13th Australian Weeds Conference in Perth, Western Australia, according to the article.

“Dr. Donaldson’s water quality education efforts have greatly informed the public. She is directly responsible for helping stakeholders apply their knowledge and skills to solve community environmental challenges,” said Colleen Cripps, administrator of the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection in the article. “We are thrilled to be able to recognize her efforts with this year’s Wendell McCurry Award.”

The award, established in 1999, honors Wendell McCurry who, over a 33-year career, advocated for water quality, established Nevada’s water quality standards and represented the state on the National Association of Clean Water Administrators.

WETLAB appreciates Donaldson’s work in water quality and specifically her contributions to educating both our state’s decision makers and the public on the important issues of water quality.


Tahoe Governing Body Passes Water Quality Plan

Here at WETLAB,  Western Environmental Testing Laboratory, we keep an eye on water quality issues throughout Northern Nevada and the surrounding region, and perhaps no other place within the region gets more attention than Lake Tahoe.

Recently, the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency, a bi-state agency that governs Lake Tahoe, passed an update to it’s 1987 regional plan in a 12-1 vote – an update that took the better part of a decade, according to an article in the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

The overarching goal of the plan is to reduce polluting runoff into the lake that reduces clarity – specifically targeting fine sediments that stay suspended in the water and nutrients that aid in growth, according to the article.

The updates specifically will allow investment in old, outdated properties that are known sources of runoff into Lake Tahoe.

But the TRPA has drawn criticism from both developers and from environmentalists, and it’s contentiousness has drawn the discussion out over many years.

Developers believe the Regional Plan to be to restrictive of construction and development so far as to hamper economic growth, while environmental groups contend the plan does not do enough to address the TRPA’s environmental goals.

The update allows increased building height, building density and developed coverage around the lake, according to critics, the article states.

“Earthjustice has represented local interests and conservation groups in the past to protect the lake and regions around its shoreline from unbridled construction and development,” said Earthjustice Attorney Wendy Park on the issue. “The population of California is growing rapidly and Lake Tahoe needs stronger, not weaker, protections to stay the very special mountain lake everyone cherishes.”

Whether the update is faced with legal challenges is not yet known, according to the article.

This will be an interesting water quality issue to watch, both for Northern Nevada and Northern California.


Stopping Nevada Water Pipeline With Snails?

Here’s an interesting water quality story bubbling up in Nevada right now: an environmental group has filed a suit to get four species of tiny springsnails as protected to keep Las Vegas from pumping billions of gallons of water from rural areas.

The Southern Nevada Water Authority has been granted approval in March to pump up to 84,000 acre-feet of groundwater a year from four rural valley to Las Vegas by Jason King, Nevada’s state engineer, according to an article by the Associated Press.

In August, the U.S. Bureau of Land Management recommended approval of the 280-mile long pipeline that would cost $3 billion.

Las Vegas has been the center of water controversies in the past with its rapid growth and associated thirst – a metropolis now home to 2 million people and host to 40 million tourists a year.

And Environmental groups have argued the plan to pump water would greatly reduce ground water levels – threatening wildlife, agriculture, ranching and rural communities, according to the AP article.

The latest lawsuit from the Center for Biological Diversity was filed in the U.S. District Court in Washington DC, asking the Fish and Wildlife Service to issue conclusions on whether the bifid duct, flag, hardy and Lake Valley pyrg springsnails deserve protection under the Endangered Species Act, according to the article.

In a preliminary finding last year prompted by a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity in 2009 found the snails, measuring about an eight of an inch to a quarter of an inch in size, may warrant protection.

The suit doesn’t target the Southern Nevada Water Authority or its pipeline project, but would give opponents more ammunition in fighting it, according to the Associated Press.

The snails date back to the ice age, said Rob Mrowka, a Nevada Advocate with the Center for Biological Diversity in the AP story, isolated as ice receded to evolve independently in accordance to the conditions of each spring.

They are an important part of the ecosystem, depended on by frogs, toads dragonflies, damsel flies, desert fish, birds and animals, according to the article.


Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic f...

Cropped transparent version of Image:Olympic flag.svg (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Water Quality and the London Summer Olympics

Browsing around the internet, looking at the latest news in the water quality word, WETLAB came across a few headlines that caught our attention – both regarding the Summer Olympic Games in London.

What could water quality have to do with the summer games? According to www.envirotech-online.com, there are two topics of interest – clean competition water for aquatic events, and the green practice of recycling sewage at the Olympic Park in London.

According to their article, water quality is actually strictly monitored for aquatic competition by the National Swimming Clubs Governing Body. For this summer’s games, the events in the aquatic center governed by that body include swimming, diving, synchronized swimming  and the swimming part of the modern pentathlon.

And on the water quality conservation front, the Olympic Park in London is recycling sewage water for use in toilets and in landscaping, according to Environmental Technology Online. The treated wastewater will also be used for cooling in the energy center.

This takes a step beyond the already green practices of harvesting rainwater and recycling grey water, and under the spotlight of the Olympic Games, could become an example of efficient water use and conservation, according to the Olympic Delivery Authority, an organization responsible for venues, infrastructure and the legacy of the 2012 Summer Olympic and Paralympic Games in London.

Sewage, or black water, has the advantage of being a more predictable, steady supply of water for applicable uses than captured rain water or even grey water, according to the article. The ODA found that treating sewage for use in toilets and irrigation actually used less energy than extracting and treating ground water for drinking water purposes.

Along with efficient fixtures reducing the use of drinkable water by 58 percent, this black water recycling program stands to put a sizeable dent in water usage by the Olympic Games.

Here in Northern Nevada, a place where water isn’t particularly plentiful, these technologies could be of great interest.

At Wetlab, we’re always interested in unique water quality topics like these that came out of the Olympic Games. Let us know what you think by commenting on this story on our Facebook page.


swimming (Photo credit: Jim Bahn)

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Robots with Smartphones, the Next Tech in Water Quality Monitoring?

English: Taking Water Samples

English: Taking Water Samples (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

So when we came across an article on www.waterworld.com about University of California, Berkeley engineers launching a fleet of 100 floating robots on the Sacramento River, we took notice.

According to the article, the Floating Sensor Network Project, led by associate professor Alexandre Bayen, offers a quickly-deployable real-time data picture of tough-to-map rivers and streams.

The project is actually an evolution of previous research from Bayen, where he used GPS-enabled smartphones to monitor traffic flow, according to the article.

In a waterway, the floating robots work in much the same way, mapping the intricate way in which the water is moving – critical for understanding the spread of pollutants.

“If something spills in the water, if there’s a contaminant, you need to know where it is now, you need to know where it’s going, you need to know where it will be later on,” said Andrew Tinka, a Ph.D. candidate in electrical engineering and computer sciences and the lead graduate student on the project in the article. “The Floating Sensor Network project can help by tracking water flow at a level of detail not currently possible.”

Down the line, the robots could also be set up to monitor other aspects affecting water quality, like temperature or contaminant levels, rather than just water speed and movement – making them even more valuable for real-time water quality monitoring.

But the technology isn’t perfect yet, as the floating robots tend to get hung up on the shores, requiring close supervision – so the ability to avoid obstacles is on the to-do list, Tinka said in the article.

“In the future, cost and size will go down, while performance and autonomy will go up, enabling monitoring at unprecedented scales,” said Bayen in the article. “We expect this to become an invaluable tool for the future management of a critical resource in this state and around the world.”

The continued advancement of our ability to monitor the quality of water, an increasingly precious resource, can only be a good thing, and here at WETLAB, we’re excited to play a part in that ongoing progress.

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By Caitlin McGarry
Posted: May 15, 2012 | 2:02 a.m.

For most people, a drink of water is like eating or sleeping. It’s just something we do to stay alive.

The Western Environmental Testing Laboratory’s work is one of the reasons people rarely think about the water they drink. The Sparks-based lab handles wastewater and drinking water testing for private companies, research firms and municipalities to ensure its safety.

The company in December opened a Las Vegas branch at 3230 Polaris Ave., to better accommodate its 10 local clients. Utility Services owner Hollie Daines is a recent addition to WETLab’s client roster. Her company is distribution operator for 45 local small public water systems, ranging from homeowners associations to resorts. WETLab analyzes the water samples Utility Services collects from the systems each month.

Click here to read more!

The Las Vegas Wash - upstream view.

The Las Vegas Wash – upstream view. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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WETLAB – Western Environmental Testing Laboratory takes a closer look at Water Quality Around The World.

We spend a lot of time looking into water quality here in Northern Nevada. A lot of time. So when we came across a Gallup poll on water quality around the world, we took a step back, to take a broader look.

Gallup surveyed residents in 145 countries around the world, asking, “In the city or area where you live, are you satisfied or dissatisfied with the quality of water?”

The highest satisfaction levels, measured by percent satisfied, were not surprisingly in the United States, Canada, western and northern Europe, according to the poll.

While the USA had 87 percent of respondents say they were satisfied – the same as Canada and Ireland – Both the United Kingdom and the Netherlands ranked higher at 91 and 92 percent respectively. Denmark, Norway and Sweden all took the top mark at 94 percent.

The other end of the spectrum, also not surprisingly unfortunately, where sub-Saharan African countries. At the bottom of the survey results was Chad, with only 21 percent of respondents were satisfied with water quality. Also on the low end were Nigeria and Ethiopia, both at 29 percent, Liberia, at 30 percent and Tanzania, at 35 percent.

It wasn’t all bad in sub-Saharan Africa – with Malawi, South Africa and Namibia at 79, 81 and 82 percent respectively.

Former Soviet Bloc countries also showed strong dissatisfaction, with Ukraine at 26 percent, Russia at 30 percent and  Kazakhstan at 49 percent.

The rest of Asia runs from a low of 35 percent in Lebanon and 43 percent in Cambodia to 98 percent in Singapore. In the world’s largest population centers, China and India, satisfaction rated 75 percent and 68 percent respectively.

In the western hemisphere, Latin America and the Caribbean ranged widely Gallup said this water-rich area was prone to exploitation and contamination.

In the Caribbean, Haiti was at 44 percent, and the polling was done before the devastating earthquake of 2010. But nearby Jamaica responded much more positively, at 89 percent.

Guyana, a small country on the northern edge of South America, responded at 54 percent satisfied, while Uruguay to the south ranked at 91 percent. Mexico fell somewhere in the middle at 70 percent.

To see the complete results, go to http://www.gallup.com/poll/105211/water-quality-issue-around-world.aspx

View of a rosette sampler, used to collect wat...

View of a rosette sampler, used to collect water samples for water quality testing. This type of sampler can be used in deep water for locations such as the Great Lakes and oceans. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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Water quality testing is constantly changing and evolving to keep up with new and changing potential contaminants – and at WETLAB we work hard to insure we have the knowledge and the equipment to keep up.
For example, beyond the usual suspects of industrial and agricultural pollutants, pharmaceuticals and personal care products are making their way into the drinking water supply in some places around the world – not just from manufacturing but from what goes down average people’s drains and what’s flushed down their toilets.

Incompletely metabolized hormones, antibiotics and other over-the-counter and prescription drugs have been detected in sewage treatment plants, rivers, lakes and aquifers.
Nitro musks – a fragrant or preservative component in cosmetics have also been detected and are of concern due to possible negative environmental impacts, and sun screen agents have been found in lakes and even fish.
Researchers Christian G Daughton and Thomas A. Ternes described the amount of pharmaceuticals and personal care products going into the environment each year is similar to the amount of pesticides, in fact, according to The University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

As of 2008, the Truckee Meadows Water Authority hasn’t reported any pharmaceutical contamination in Reno drinking water – testing for 31 compounds at a sensitivity of one part per trillion, “or one drop in 1,000 Olympic-size swimming pools,” according to tmwa.com.

But it’s an issue that water quality specialists like WETLAB need to keep an eye on, as more and more such contaminants are being found around the country and around the world.
A United States Geological Survey nation-wide assessment has found caffeine, codeine, cholesterol-lowering agents, anti-depressants, and estrogen replacement drugs in tested waters.
This has already had measurable affects on aquatic life – for example, British research found that estrogen has deformed reproductive systems in fish, according to The University of Arizona.

But the effects on human’s aren’t as clear, according to the university document, with some experts believing levels are generally too low to pose a risk to people, while others believe long-term exposure could  potentially cause problems from interfering with hormone production to the creation of more antibiotic-resistant disease-causing bacteria.

Arid western regions, where streams can be more reliant on effluent, could be more susceptible, which is why water quality monitoring will continue to be critical in our region.

It’s no secret – economic turmoil has sent the price of comparatively secure gold skyrocketing – with the precious metal fetching over $1,700 an ounce.

Gold’s S&P-500 stock index is at its highest since 1988, according the Reuters.

“Gold’s safe-haven allure has attracted investors fleeing the risk of debt crisis contagion in Europe and slowing global growth,” according the the Aug. 11 Reuters article. “Prices of cash gold have risen as much as 21 percent since the end of June.”

And that’s good news for Northern Nevada, where Elko has become the primary gold-producing region in the United States.

But all that demand on gold requires caution from an environmental standpoint.

Gold mining is an environmentally-challenging task, and both our state-of-the-art Sparks laboratory and Elko office work with our mining clients to make sure they stay in compliance with environmental regulations, operating in a clean and environmentally sound manner.

And that’s important, given what it takes to mine for gold.

According to mining watchdog group Earthworks, mining the gold for a standard 18-karat wedding band leaves behind 20 tons of ore and waste rock.

Disturbing that much earth can lead to toxic runoff from a mine if not properly controlled – long-buried chemicals and minerals exposed to air can produce acids and leach toxic metals like sulfuric acid and arsenic.

Extracting gold from the ore can release mercury as well, and some processes use cyanide to complete gold extraction. Cyanide is obviously very toxic on its own, but can also degrade into byproducts like nitrates that can contaminate groundwater.

If those toxins aren’t properly monitored and captured, that’s bad news for the environment and anybody using water down stream.

That’s why it’s critical for us at WETLAB to work with mines to track water and soil quality, to make sure that this new gold rush doesn’t leave any negative impact – just a positive impact on the economy of northern Nevada.

To share your thoughts, go to our  Facebook page and post a comment.

Lake Tahoe snowmelt floods water sampling labs, hydrologists with work

A web of agencies and scientists work day and night each spring to monitor the aquatic health of one of North America’s most majestic alpine lakes

In the world of water quality monitoring, there is perhaps no more majestic setting or no more intense industry epicenter than Lake Tahoe.

Twenty-two miles long, more than 1,500 feet deep — and surrounded by vacation homes, ski resorts, casinos and lodges — Tahoe is the perfect mix of jaw-dropping, crystalline natural treasure and highway- and home-ringed recreation Mecca that has fueled an intense, long-term web of water quality monitoring programs to gauge the lake’s aquatic health.

Over the span of more than 50 years, scientists have deployed all throughout the year, all across the lake, to gauge sediment loading, nutrient concentrations and water clarity.

But one time of year — when the mountains of snow that ring that lake begin to slowly succumb to the spring’s long days and warm sun — brings of a flood of water quality monitoring work to sampling labs, scientists, non-profit groups and regulators.

The few weeks when spring runoff intensifies — swelling streams and filling the lake with fresh snowmelt — is one of the most critical annual cycles for the clarity of the lake. It is then that agencies can gauge if BMPs (Best Management Practices) are filtering road grime and sediment from construction sites, driveways and roadways. It is then that the effects of the millions of dollars that are regularly invested in catch basins, filtration ponds, and stream and wetland restoration are calculated.

Hydrologists, volunteers and laboratories are flooded with work, literally working day and night to pinpoint the effect of stormwater drainage on one of the world’s most studied bodies of water.

“If [runoff peaks] at 12 o’ clock at night on Christmas day, you go out a monitor then because you don’t want to miss that. Often you are out there in the middle of the night or on weekends,” said John Reuter, associate director of U.C. Davis’s Tahoe Environmental Research Center.

While the waters of Lake Tahoe have been monitored since 1958, agencies have only recently been examining the precise effects of stormwater drainage on Lake Tahoe’s water quality. In 2003, in conjunction with the EPA-mandated Total Maximum Daily Load program, agencies began sampling 16 stormwater sites around the lake. The results confirmed that 70 percent of the fine particles that end up clouding Lake Tahoe’s clarity are coming from urban sites.

Lake Tahoe’s three pollutants of concern — Phosphorous, Nitrogen and fine sediment — are tested and gauged by agency and private labs in the region. Phosphorous and nitrogen stimulate algae growth in the lake, which clouds the lake’s clarity, and sediment that is five times less thick than a human hair, gets suspended in the water, also impairing Tahoe’s famed crystalline waters.

Laboratories like nearby Sparks, Nev.-based WETLAB brace for the flood of laboratory work that each spring runoff season brings.

WETLAB’s state-of-the-art lab was built in 2006 to accommodate the increasing monitoring workload of water analysis from nearby agencies, mining regulators and environmental non-profits. The lab’s business, built on all types of regulatory compliance and environmental restoration work — from Lake Tahoe water testing to environmental testing around mining sites — has boomed in the past year. WETLAB has grown revenue by nearly 30 percent in the last year and hired over 11 full- and part-time employees.

“WETLAB braces for spring each year, knowing that snowmelt means our busy season is here,” said Michelle Sherven, president of WETLAB. “We have even added services, like a dedicated shuttle between our lab and Lake Tahoe, to help busy agencies and non-profit complete important water tests on time during the tense runoff months.”

The precision of the water quality testing is incredibly important as the results guide heavy federal, state and local investment in the environmental future of the lake.

Some of the fixes to the stormwater pollutants that run off of roads, driveways and roofs are simple and common — street sweeping to catch sediment before it is washed into the lake or filtration basins. But when dealing with very fine sediment and minute particles that wash swiftly from shoreline urban areas into the lake, some unique, cutting-edge solutions to Lake Tahoe’s stormwater pollution are being considered, said Reuter.

Ideas like a “pump-and-treat” system — where stormwater is pumped uphill to a man-made filtration area or a natural watershed where the sediment can slowly filter out of the water before it reaches the lake — are being talked about.

Whatever direction the efforts to maintain and restore Lake Tahoe’s famed water clarity take, springtime will continue to be a critical season for scientists, regulators and laboratories to gauge the condition of one of the nation’s most treasured natural wonders.