Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Water Runoff Testing

After a heavy rainfall, water runs off of non-absorbent surfaces like roads, driveways, and parking lots. While the rain pours off the pavement, it carries away all of the pollutants with it, including oil, gasoline, and sediment. These pollutants flow with the water into natural rivers, streams, and lakes. However, it’s not only the larger waterways that are affected; drainage ditches and storm water retention ponds become polluted as well. This runoff is referred to as nonpoint source pollution because it does not stem from one specific source such as an industrial facility. Due to the lack of rainfall in Nevada’s arid climate, several months of pollutants can be released during one large storm event. Characterizing the levels of pollutants in water runoff is an important task in protecting our water sources.

WETLAB has developed specialized testing suites for characterizing this runoff. These tests include turbidity, to measure the amount of sediment that has escaped the roadways, and metal levels, including lead and mercury. To find out how WETLAB can help you characterize water runoff, call us at (775) 355-0202 and talk to one of our talented project managers.

To find out more about nonpoint source pollution, visit the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP) website here.

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.

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.