Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Courier Services at WETLAB

At WETLAB, we try to do everything we can to make things easier for our clients environmental testing needs.  One of the biggest ways we do that is with wide-reaching courier routes that run weekly.  Each of our three offices (Sparks, Elko, and Las Vegas) has their own routes, which makes it easier for clients all over Nevada and parts of California to have their samples analyzed in a timely manner.

For a sample of how far WETLAB travels to better serve you, we’ll take a look at the basic weekly schedule of pick-ups from the Sparks office.

Monday: Herlong, Portola, Grass Valley, North Lake Tahoe

Tuesday: Kirkwood, South Lake Tahoe, East Shore, Yerington

Wednesday: Carson City, Bridgeport, Topaz Lake

Thursday: South Shore, Mt. Rose, North Shore, Winnemucca, Round Mountain, Austin

Friday: Winnemucca upon request

If scheduled ahead of time, WETLAB can also provide basic sampling and off-route pick-up!  And when a storm comes, we make a special storm water route available.


Call us today at (775) 355-0202 to see how WETLAB can make your sample pick-up and delivery easier.

No one living on the West coast has been able to escape the boisterous predictions about El Niño and its potential impact this winter.  At WETLAB, we have been keeping a close eye on what the experts are saying about the storm, and keeping our fingers crossed that it means lots of new snow.  However, there are new predictions out saying that El Niño may bring a lot of moisture, but it might be warm.  This spells bad news for our drought-stricken region, where it was recently found that the snow pack in the Sierra Nevada’s is at a 500-year low.  Of course, some moisture is better than none, but rain brings a higher possibility of mudslides and erosion.  Sadly, there is no way to know what’s going to happen until it happens, so now we must all wait with baited breath and crossed fingers, hoping for snow.

Predicted El Niño weather pattern, courtesy of Accuweather.com

Predicted El Niño weather pattern, courtesy of Accuweather.com

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.



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




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.

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

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

As we’ve discussed before, Lake Tahoe gets a lot of attention from both Nevada and California regarding water quality.

Tahoe’s clarity – measured by the depth at which a white disk can be seen from the surface – is the standard used to gauge the alpine lake’s health. But the measurement is taken near the middle, not the shore, painting an incomplete picture of Tahoe’s true health.

But that’s about to change, according to an article from the Nevada Appeal, when the Desert Research Institute (DRI) launches a boat that will collect new water quality data. Thanks to new funding, DRI will conduct regular testing in shallow water environments around Lake Tahoe for the next three years.

“This will give us an idea of what areas of the lake are threatened, what are the hot spots,” DRI staff scientist Brian Fitzgerald told the Nevada Appeal.

The group is using a jet-powered craft, which can go into shallower water than a prop-driven boat, according to the article, and can take continuous readings as it moves along the lakeshore.

The DRI boat will take water quality measurements including turbidity, translucidity and chlorophyll content, all components of clarity.

As explained in the article, this new data should give scientists a much better handle on what impacts Tahoe’s clarity, as the majority of clarity-reducing pollutants enter the lake as runoff in these shallower zones.

“The near-shore is where it happens,” Fitzgerald said to the Nevada Appeal. “It’s where the interactions are, where the sediment is coming in.”

The study should identify the most impacted areas, allowing cleanup efforts to be focused in the right places to improve water quality and clarity.

We’re interested in following the results of this study, to see what the near-shore water quality monitoring does beyond the already-successful measures taken in the past to bring back Lake Tahoe’s legendary clear waters.

Image via: http://pyramidlakeflyfishing.com/

Image via: http://pyramidlakeflyfishing.com/

What’s living in Northern Nevada’s water is an important indicator of water quality for our area, and in some cases can affect water quality, so news on aquatic species is always of interest here at WETLAB.

First, the good news. As reported by Tom Knudson in the Sacramento Bee, the Pyramid Lake Lahontan Cutthroat Trout is recovering from near extinction.

“This is such an exciting story because this was such a unique fish,” said Mary Peacock, an associate professor of biology and genetics expert at the University of Nevada, Reno, in the Sacbee story. “You can see pictures from the early part of the 1900s with people holding really large trout out of Tahoe or Pyramid. We thought those fish were gone.”

The particular strain of Cutthrought Trout was overfished in the 1920s and 30s, but the construction of the Derby Dam on the Truckee River to divert water meant the fish could no longer reach their spawning grounds, dealing what was thought to be the final blow, according to the story.

But survivors were found in an unlikely place, Morrison Creek on the Nevada Utah boarder, and a slow, tenuous reintroduction was underway.

On the scarier side of aquatic wildlife news, the Reno Gazette Journal is reporting that the Nevada Department of Wildlife has confirmed that New Zealand mudsnails – an invasive species that can do serious damage to a lake or river, has been detected in the Truckee River.

The small snail can be the size of a grain of sand or up to an eighth of an inch, but can out-compete native species and wreak havoc on a stream’s ecosystem, according to the article.

Looking upstream to Tahoe and other lakes that feed the Truckee River, the specter of invasive species may not be as ominous as once thought, however.

An in-depth review of national scientific studies indicates that quagga and zebra mussels, long thought to pose a significant risk to Tahoe, Donner and other area lakes, may not be able to survive in the calcium-poor bodies of water, according to “the Saga of the Quagga” by David Bunker, published in Moonshine Ink.

This recent revelation has put mandatory, paid boat inspections on Donner Lake on hold, according to the article, while the science is reviewed.

These are all important issues for the Northern Nevada region’s water quality, and will all be important to keep an eye on as they continue to develop.


Sierra Snowpack water content off to a strong start!

Measuring snow depth with GPS

Measuring snow depth with GPS (Photo credit: WSDOT)

It’s that time of year again – the time when intrepid snow surveyors head out into the Sierra Nevada Mountains to assess how much water is stored in the winter’s snowpack.

California Department of Water Resources surveyors went out for the first look at the end of December and confirmed what we all expected – there’s a lot of water already stored in the snow, ready to flow downstream to Nevada and California in the spring.

The Central Sierra region, which includes the Truckee River – the primary water source for the Reno-Sparks region, holds 112 percent of normal water content for this date, and 53 percent of the yearly total measured April 1st each year.

The Northern Sierra reports 117 percent and 56 percent for those two stats, and the Southern Sierra shows 109 percent and 47 percent, according to the California Department of Water Resources.

After last winter’s dry spell, some in Nevada are still cautious, however.

According to a Reno Gazette Journal article, Federal Watermaster Jim Shaw told the Walker River Irrigation District Board to be cautious, with some long term forecasts showing below normal precipitation for January through March.

Frank Gehrke, chief snow surveyor for the California Department of Water Resources, shared the same caution in a San Francisco Chronicle article.

“We’ve got a real good start to the year, but still three months to go where we need to have more snow,” he said in the article. “From a skier’s standpoint, it’s gorgeous. You can’t get much better in California than we’ve got now. The thing that is always on our minds, though, is whether this sunny weather will keep up for long.”

Still, things look a lot better than last year, according to the article, with 4 feet of snow measured by Gehrke (1 foot of water content) this year, compared to 4 inches of snow – 0.14 inches of water – for the same time last year.

So the bottom line is this – we’re off to a good start, but let’s keep our fingers crossed for more snow to come!

Measuring snow depth with style

Measuring snow depth with style (Photo credit: WSDOT)

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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.


Winter Forecasting from WETLAB – Western Environmental Testing Laboratory

OSTM/Jason-2's predecessor TOPEX/Poseidon caug...

OSTM/Jason-2’s predecessor TOPEX/Poseidon caught the largest El Niño in a century seen in this image from Dec. 1, 1997. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This time of year, many skiers, snowboarders and other snow-lovers in Northern Nevada and elsewhere start to wonder what kind of winter is coming.

But the winter’s snowfall affects more than just the ski slopes – it’s what supplies water to much of Nevada, California and the rest of the west. Here in the Reno area, the forecasts that get the most attention is what will happen up the hill in the Lake Tahoe Region.

There are a variety of long-term forecasts to choose from, and all have varying levels of success.

Accuweather.com first predicted big snowfall in the Sierra, but in their October 14 forecast, they’ve backed off, not predicting above or below average snowfall for the region.

“Rain and (mountain) snow in California this coming season, I believe, will be near normal for the most part. A little bit more in the southern half than the northern half is expected,” said AcccuWeather Long-Range Forecaster Paul Pastelok.

The long-standing Farmer’s Almanac calls for milder than normal temperatures than normal, with average precipitation.

Early indications showed the possibility of El Nino conditions, created by warmer temperatures in the Pacific that historically have meant more precipitation in the Southwest and less in the Northwest, but according to a local forecaster at tahoeweatherdiscussion.com, El Nino conditions continue to weaken.

It’s tough to tell what El Nino, or its opposite, La Nina, mean for the Reno-Tahoe area, as last year’s below average snowfall came with a weak La Nina, and the huge snowfall of the winter before came with a stronger La Nina.

On 14 of the last 60 winters have been neutral  – neither La Nina or El Nino – making predictions even more difficult, according to tahoeweatherdiscussion.com.

So the bottom line? There don’t seem to be any strong predictors yet. We’ll have to wait and see what the winter brings, and hope for the best to replenish our water supplies.

English: Snowy forest in Boreal, near Lake Tah...

English: Snowy forest in Boreal, near Lake Tahoe, in the Sierra Nevada of California. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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