Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Sierra Snowpack Water Storage looking low


Earlier this winter, we took a look at a promising beginning to the winter’s snowpack and corresponding water storage after big December storms.

Our January WETLAB blog reported end-of-December totals of 112 percent water content in the Sierra Snowpack that feeds the Truckee River and the Reno-Northern Nevada area downstream. At the time, that put us at 53 percent of the year’s total.

Fast forward to the end of February, and the picture is a little different – because the water is about the same. Yes, the months of January and February were the driest ever recorded for the Northern Sierra since modern records were first kept in 1920, according to the San Jose Mercury News, putting us at only 66 percent of normal to date.

Snowfall, stored in the Sierra to melt throughout the spring and summer as one of the major water sources for both Nevada and California, has been blocked by a ridge of high pressure off the West Coast for the last two months, driving storms up into Canada, and dropping them into the Midwest.

And accordingly, water officials are tightening their belts. The Walker River Irrigation District said farmers might receive about half of what they received last year, even though last year was also a below average year for water in the Sierra snowpack, according to the Reno Gazette Journal.

That – despite this year’s snowpack holding more water than last year – is due to drawn-down reservoir levels, according to Federal Watermaster Jim Shaw.

“I hate to bear crappy news, but being an old farmer, it doesn’t look very good,” Shaw said in the RGJ article. “If it’s any consolation, it’s this way clear across the U.S., from the Mississippi River west.”

While the April 1 deadline for measuring Sierra snowpack and water stored therein is quickly approaching, some local forecasters aren’t quite ready to write this winter off.

Snow Forecaster Bryan Allegretto of opensnow.com writes that, depending on which forecasting model you look at, there’s still a chance at feet of snow before the month of March is up.

The bottom line – if you’re an optimist, it’s not over until its over, but if you’re not, we’re unlikely to make up for the ground lost in January and February.

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.


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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Posted by Ginger Peppard, Business Development Manager

I recently attended a great workshop hosted by Placer County and the Town of Truckee entitled “Stormwater Quality Workshop for the Truckee Area Emphasizing Regulations, BMP’s and Low Impact Development.” The workshop was designed to provide contractors, developers, planners, engineers and inspectors with information needed in order to be in compliance with current storm water and non-storm water discharge requirements. It also addressed current regulations, Best Management Practices (BMPs) for construction sites and an overview of Low Impact Development (LID). For more information about the workshop (or to see when they are going to schedule it again!) or about Placer County’s Stormwater Quality Program, email: stormwater@placer.ca.gov.

Why is stormwater monitoring and quality important?

Stormwater runoff occurs when rain or snowmelt flows over impervious surfaces (such as roads, driveways, buildings, sidewalks and parking lots). These impervious surfaces prevent the water from soaking directly into the ground. Stormwater runoff is a problem because, while the water is traveling over these impervious surfaces, searching for an area to infiltrate, it picks up speed, as well as debris, chemicals, dirt and other pollutants. Because stormwater is not treated (or minimally treated in some areas), those large concentrations of pollutants are then deposited directly into the storm drains, or in many cases, directly into streams, rivers, lakes or wetlands.

These harmful contaminants then come in direct contact with fish and wildlife and pollute the water that many of us depend on for recreation activities and for drinking water. Some of the common pollutants found in stormwater are: motor oil, grease, automotive fluids, pesticides, fertilizers, pet waste, paint, solvents, insecticides and sediment and other large debris such as plastic bags, cigarette butts and bottles and cans. Bacteria and other pathogens are also common contaminants and can create serious health hazards. All of these pollutants have serious hazards, either to humans or to the fish and wildlife that inhabit our local streams, lakes and wetlands.

Here are some things you can do to help prevent stormwater runoff pollution:

  • Prevent soil erosion by vegetating bare spots in and around your property. If you have livestock, take all possible steps to prevent overgrazing.
  • Pick up after your pet and dispose of waste in a proper waste receptacle.
  • Cover piles of Pick up after your pet and dispose of waste in a proper waste receptacle.
    loose landscaping materials.
  • Do not disturb vegetation or soil around natural waterways. Stick to defined trails while enjoying the outdoors.
  • Never dump anything down the storm drains or directly into waterways.
  • Dispose of used auto fluids, batteries, solvents, paints and prescription drugs using proper disposal methods. Many of these items have designated drop off or recycling locations.
  • Take your car to the car wash instead of washing it in your driveway.
  • Use fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides sparingly.
  • Don’t over water your lawn.
  • If you have a septic tank, have it professionally inspected every 3 years and pumped regularly.
  • During construction activities, minimize disturbed areas, stabilize slopes and avoid disturbing natural channels. Also minimize the amount of dirt tracked out of the project site.

For more information from Placer County, or additional information brochures for homeowners, construction, Post-Construction and Business/Industrial, visit Placer County’s website at http://www.placer.ca.gov/Departments/Works/StrmWtr.aspx.