Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Snapshot Day 2018

WETLAB has been participating in Snapshot Day for over a decade!  Snapshot Day is coordinated by the Bureau of Water Quality Planning within the Nevada Division of Environmental Protection (NDEP).  Snapshot Day occurs annually and is a two-day event where the Urban Truckee River portion of the watershed is sampled from the outlet at Lake Tahoe to its end at Pyramid Lake.  That’s more than 105 miles!  Snapshot Day is an event that involves the community and education outreach; volunteers from local businesses and organizations spend their time teaching students throughout the Tahoe and Truckee Basin about conservation, ecology, hydrology, environmental stewardship, and water quality.  In addition, site facilitators conduct a stream walk for habitat assessment and sample collection for field and laboratory testing.  In conjunction with NDEP, these small groups help create a larger picture of the health of the Basin and watershed.  This provides longitudinal data that helps identify possible sources of pollution or other contamination and information for community planning and development.

On Friday, May 18th 2018, WETLAB volunteered for the 18th Annual Snapshot Day.  Our sampling site was part of the Lower Truckee River at Whites Creek on the campus of Mountain View Montessori School.  As facilitators, we had the opportunity to teach 4th & 5th grade students about the importance of a healthy watershed, water quality, field testing methods, the water cycle, and environmental sustainability.  We were excited to provide a hands-on learning experience to stimulate interest and stewardship while learning about pollution, invasive species, the water cycle, and procedures for field testing.  We also emphasized the importance of observation and protection of our unique water resources.

Team WETLAB at White's Creek for Snapshot Day 2018.

Team WETLAB at White’s Creek for Snapshot Day 2018.

Snapshot Day has become an annual WETLAB tradition.  We love getting out into nature and helping to inspire the next generation of scientists!  Jen Delany, one of our regular leaders for Snapshot Day, wrote the overview below. 

WETLAB Snapshot Day leaders Jen, Cory, and Vanessa.

WETLAB Snapshot Day leaders Jen, Cory, and Vanessa

On Friday May 12th 2017, WETLAB volunteered for Snapshot Day, which is coordinated by the Bureau of Water Quality Planning (NDEP). Snapshot Day occurs annually and is a one-day event where the Urban Truckee River portion of the watershed is sampled from the outlet at Lake Tahoe to its end at Pyramid Lake. That’s a total of 105 miles! Snapshot Day is an event that includes the community and education outreach; different businesses and organizations volunteer their time to teach students throughout the Washoe basin about conservation, environmental stewardship, and water quality.   In conjunction with NDEP, these small groups help create a larger picture to determine the health of our watershed over time and identify possible sources of pollution or other contamination. In addition, site facilitators conduct a stream walk for habitat assessment and sample collection for field and laboratory testing.

WETLAB’s sampling site along the Truckee River this year was Whites Creek on the Mountain View Montessori School campus. As facilitators, we had the opportunity to teach the 4th & 5th grade students about the importance of a healthy watershed, water quality, field testing methods, the water cycle and environmental sustainability. We had a unique opportunity this year to educate the students about the Atmospheric River and how the allocation of water is managed within our state. Students were engaged and incredibly helpful.

WETLAB staff enjoyed providing a hands-on learning experience to stimulate interest and stewardship. We hope to continue volunteering for this event year after year!

At WETLAB, we are often approached by members of the community who are interested in having one of talented scientists come talk to students about chemistry.  We try to oblige as much as we can, and this year, we were able to do two completely different presentations for different classes.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

One of the thank you letters sent in by the students.

First up was Andy Smith, our esteemed Quality Assurance Manager, who performed four “chemistry magic” experiments for 2-5 year old students at the Goddard School.  The first experiment was a re-appearing ink sign.  The ink was phenolphthalein indicator on paper, and once the paper was sprayed with Windex (making it basic) the message “Chemistry Magic” appeared.  Next, he created a blueberry Kool-Aid drink that, due to an oxidation- reduction reaction, would turn from blue to colorless.  With a quick shake of the bottle, it would return to blue for a few minutes before the reaction completed again. Third, he changed the color of a Bunsen burner flame to blue (with copper sulfate), orange (with sodium chloride), green (barium chloride), and  brilliant red (with lithium sulfate).  Last, Andy crushed aluminum cans by boiling a small amount of water in them to create steam.  Once the steaming can is turned over in ice water, the instant cooling causes the cans to crush themselves!

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Andy Smith helps to inspire some future scientists.

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Andy shows Chemistry Magic!

The next was Ellen Messinger-Patton, Kat Langford, and Andrew Tobey, who showed a presentation on water purity to sixth graders.  In order to show that tap water is just as safe to drink as bottled water, the kids compared and contrasted three samples, including bottled water, tap water, and an untreated sample from the Truckee River.  They used odor, color, pH, metals concentration, and turbidity to determine which water sample was the cleanest.  At the end of the hour, bottled water and tap water were a tie, and many of the kids agreed to try to drink tap water now.  The WETLAB presenters also spent a small amount of time relaying the importance of conservation, and what our hydrologic system looks like in the Truckee Meadows.

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Ellen Messinger-Patton and Kat Langford begin water purity demonstration.

At WETLAB, we think that science education is incredibly important.  We are happy to foster the next generation of scientists, and show them that science is not only useful, but also really fun.

Nevada is home to many beautiful, expansive, and green golf courses.  But, Nevada is also a dry, arid desert which is currently going through a severe drought, and there’s no end in sight.  How are these two seemingly irreconcilable realities coexisting?  Well, that’s a multi-faceted answer.

Golf courses go hand-in-hand with Nevada’s hospitality and luxury industries, and companies would be hard pressed to simply let their green investments die a brown, crunchy death.  So companies, and courses, have gotten a little creative.  While they started with the obvious measures of reducing overall usage, and examining pipes for leaks, the reduction was simply was not enough.  Golf courses have now started using treated effluent water as a means for watering their massive lawns.  Many courses in Nevada, especially those lining the Las Vegas strip, have used gray water for several years, but effluent water is a newer usage concept.  Effluent water differs from gray water in that it must be more treated, since it can contain sewage.  Using effluent water, instead of fresh water or even gray water, means a reduction of demand for potable water, which in turn means that our dwindling water supply can hold out a bit longer.

Northern Nevada golf courses have capitalized on the use of treated effluent water as a means to water their grass.  It’s clear that the water-saving measure isn’t negatively impacting the golf courses, too, because the lawns are bright green and thriving.  You just have to drive by Washoe County’s Sierra Sage Golf Course in Stead to see that this is a great way to water the turf.  Sierra Sage gets their water from the City of Reno’s Stead Water Reclamation Facility, where the effluent water is treated to the point where it is no longer dangerous, but still not potable.

Another impact of this ever-worsening drought?  Shorter winters mean more time on the putting green.

 

WETLAB tests effluent water for EPA compliance, and water for golf courses is no exception.  WETLAB will also test all of your runoff and fertilizer samples, call (775) 355-0202 for more information.

Nik Shulenberger and Ellen Messinger-Patton at WETLAB’s booth on turbidity and water clarity.

 

Three WETLAB staffers spent their day volunteering at U.C. Davis’s Tahoe Environmental Research Center’s Children’s Environmental Science Day on August 2, 2015.  This wonderful event presented many different environmental topics to kids of all ages, and each booth was hosted by a different interested organization.  WETLAB hosted a booth on turbidity and water clarity, which simultaneously exposed children to modern science and helped them understand a specific aspect of Lake Tahoe conservation.

 

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A portion of the booths set up to expose children to environmental science and conservation.

 

 

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Jasmine shows kids how to test various water samples with a turbidimeter.

 

According to a recent article in the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency’s Tahoe in Depth Newsletter, the clarity levels of Lake Tahoe are improving.  Lake clarity increased due to several factors, high among them being the continuing drought.  Lower amounts of precipitation means less runoff into the lake, which means that fewer pollutants find their way into Tahoe’s waters.  The extreme regional drought has brought a small glimmer of good news, but that news pales in comparison to its terrible effects elsewhere.  However, if we focus on the bright side, Lake Tahoe clarity levels are at a decade long high.

Water clarity in Lake Tahoe is measured using a Secchi Disk.  The Secchi disk is a white disk that is lowered into a body of water.  The clarity measurement is then obtained by seeing how far the Secchi disk can lowered into the water while still remaining visible.  In Lake Tahoe, the clarity has historically been remarkable, with data suggesting clearness to approximately 120 feet.  While the lake is nowhere near that clear now, currently hovering around 70 feet, it is still a measure of how the lake is currently faring in its ever-expanding use.

Water clarity is an important indicator of lake health.  One of the reasons for Lake Tahoe’s remarkable clarity is due to the amount of rain that falls directly on the lake.  Approximately 40% of rainfall that contributes to the lakes watershed is directly onto the lake itself.  This is a very large amount of water that does not have to flow into the lake via runoff, meaning that the clarity is not negatively impacted.

Several measures have been taken to increase Lake Tahoe’s clarity levels, including the very popular “Keep Tahoe Blue” campaign (more information can be found here).  Another important tactic is the institution of the Lake Tahoe Total Maximum Daily Load, which WETLAB has previously written about here.

WETLAB has been participating in Snapshot Day for several years now.  We’re proud of our commitment to education, and we hope to inspire ecological stewardship in students of all ages, while also showcasing various career paths they might not have considered previously.  WETLAB directed three monitoring stations this year, meaning we were given the chance to inspire over one hundred students.  Below is a guest blog written by Mary Kay Wagner, the coordinator for Snapshot Day. 

 

Education on the River: Truckee River Snapshot Day

Mary Kay Wagner, Lower Truckee River Snapshot Day Coordinator

The ultimate learning experience occurs when students perform their own investigations and discovery.  That opportunity was provided for Washoe County School District students during the 15th Annual Truckee River Snapshot Day on May 15, 2015. Under the guidance of resource professionals, students take a picture of one-moment in time of the Truckee River by collecting water quality data and studying the riparian habitat.  They also learn about watershed concerns and stewardship practices.

For the lower Truckee River segment, nine schools sent 239 students ranging from 4th grade to high school to participate in the event. The student monitoring teams are pre-assigned to various monitoring sites to perform a stream walk (visual assessment), collect field data and water quality samples, and take photos. Streams are field tested for dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, and temperature. Water samples are taken to the Nevada State Health Lab and analyzed for turbidity, nutrients, and fecal coliform bacteria. Monitoring teams also collect debris and trash – things that don’t belong in the river.

One added value of Snapshot Day is the opportunity for students to learn and work alongside natural resource professionals, exposing the students to exciting careers and transferring ecological stewardship principles to a new batch of field recruits.

The success of this hands-on educational event is attributed to the dedicated Team Leaders from WETLAB, Great Basin Institute, Sierra Nevada Journeys, City of Sparks, City of Reno, Nevada Division of Environmental Protection, Nevada Department of Transportation, The Nature Conservancy and Pyramid Lake Environmental staff, who helped students understand watershed concepts and hydrology, as well as the importance of environmental stewardship.  Participating schools included Mt. View Montessori, Natchez Elementary School, High Desert Montessori, Sage Ridge Middle School, Excel Christian School, Spanish Springs High School, Washoe Innovation High School, a home-school group and the Washoe County On-Line School.

 

A student collects a water sample from Hunter Creek during Snapshot Day 2015.

A student collects a water sample from Hunter Creek during Snapshot Day 2015.

According the Reno Gazette-Journal, the recent rains experienced by northern Nevada and Lake Tahoe will ultimately have little impact on lake water levels.  The recent precipitation has pushed Lake Tahoe up to its natural rim, but will drop as the weather continues to warm.

There has been a reported 1.42 inches of rainfall in South Lake Tahoe between May 14 and 25, and just about one inch in Reno-Sparks.

While any rain is good for our local water table, the amount we received in May is simply not enough to make a large difference for the rest of the summer. By the end of the summer, Lake Tahoe is expected to be several feet below its rim.

The long standing drought in California and Nevada shows few signs of stopping anytime soon.

More about this story can be found here.

2015 Seasonal Drought Outlook, Courtesy of the National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center

On January 8, 2014 the water supply for one of the largest water treatment plants in West Virginia was contaminated.  The contaminant was 4-methylcycolhexene methanol, a chemical used to remove impurities from coal. It leaked from a storage container at Freedom Industries, a company that specializes in making chemicals for the coal and steel industries.  The leak was caused by barrier failures that allowed the chemical to flow down a bank and into the Elk River where it traveled one mile downstream to the water treatment plant.

The chemical spill caused a pungent odor to overtake the surrounding area resulting in lead officials from the EPA Air Quality division to discover the leak. Upon investigation, Air Quality division officials notified the EPA Water Quality division, along with management at the treatment plant. A non-use order was immediately put in place for all residents.

The non-use order prohibited water use for all purposes including drinking, cooking, bathing, laundry or cleaning, affecting businesses such as hospitals, motels/hotels, restaurants, schools and grocery stores. And while the water treatment plant serves just 100,000 customers, reports estimated that up to one-fourth of the state’s population was affected by the spill.

TIMELINE

Jan 8th – Spill Occurred; Non-Use Warning Issued

Jan 9th – News and Radio Reporting on Issue

Jan 10th – West Virginia Governor and President Obama declare a state of emergency for 9 Counties

Jan 13th – Limited Use of Water Allowed After Water System Flush

At the time of the spill the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) did not have a healthy concentration consumption standard for 4-methylcycolhexene methanol; therefore, the chemical was not regulated and had been deemed “non-hazardous.”  The CDC is currently working on the total maximum daily load (TMDL), which is a “calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards” (EPA).

Some interesting points that are highly relative to WETLAB work:

The chemical has a low odor threshold which helped the detection of the leak

A representative from the West Virginia Water Research Institute said the closest thing he could find to 4-methylhexene methanol for water quality are foaming agents (MBAS).

The CDC decided that a “safe” level for the contaminant is less than 1p.m.

 

References:

NPR.org

Huffington Post EPA

 

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First Lady Michelle Obama has been advocating for people to drink more water in an effort to improve health.

If you’re a fan of WETLAB on Facebook, you’ll know that’s something we whole-heartedly agree with.

According to an Associated Press report, Obama launched the campaign earlier this month in Watertown, Wisc., saying drinking more water is the “single best thing Americans could do to improve their health.”

“Water is so basic, and because it is so plentiful, sometimes we just forget about it amid all the ads we watch on television and all the messages we receive every day about what to eat and drink,” she said in the article.

Mrs. Obama spoke about seeing improvements in her two daughters’ health after deciding to drink more water, but was careful not to attack the soft drink industry, according to the article, because she said healthy changes won’t happen without buy-in from the food industry.

In fact, this campaign is backed by the American Beverage Association, which represents makers of soda, sports drinks and energy drinks, according to the article, but many of those companies also make bottled water.

This is where some environmental groups take issue.

“We applaud the first lady’s initiative to encourage people to choose water over sugary beverages, but we do have concerns that this partnership is working in conjunction with the bottled water industry and with that instead she were encouraging people to choose the much more affordable, more regulated option of tap water,” said Emily Wurth, water program director for Food and Water Watch in the article.

The issues are two-fold: the waste created by disposable water bottles (about ¼ of plastic water bottles are recycled according to Wurth) and tap water is held to higher quality standards than bottled water, which often comes from municipal water systems anyway, making the premium price questionable, according to the article.

Local Water News

In northern Nevada Water news, winter forecasts are starting to turn up, offering interesting predictions into Sierra snow pack and our subsequent water supply. The Farmers’ Almanac is calling for a cool winter with near-normal precipitation, which would be an improvement over the last two years. But the National Climate Prediction Center is having a tough-time nailing down a prediction, reporting “equal chance of being below normal or above normal for snowfall for the western states.” Only time will tell, but we’re keeping our fingers crossed.