Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Science Education with WETLAB

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!


Andy Smith helps to inspire some future scientists.


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.

Ellen and Kat

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.

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.

Snapshot Day isn’t a WETLAB photo shoot. It’s an annual Lake Tahoe Basin and Truckee River Watershed citizen-monitoring event. Launched back in 2000, Snapshot Day is designed to promote environmental education and stewardship while also collecting valuable water quality information. Snapshot Day takes place at locations throughout the Lake Tahoe and Truckee River Watersheds.

During Snapshot Day, we work with students and other volunteers to field-test streams, collect discrete water samples for nutrient analysis, and educate participants on protecting and improving the watershed in their own backyard. The data collected helps provide a “snapshot” of water quality and stream conditions all throughout the region.

It’s truly a great opportunity to learn about your local watershed and get more involved in a great locally-driven environmental event. Snapshot Day is run by volunteers, but spearheaded by the Tahoe-Truckee Clean Water team and sponsored by local environmental and water-focused agencies, including WETLAB. Our participation as a sponsor and team dates back to 2009 and we’re proud to support the program and its commitment to protecting the watershed in our community.

2012 Snapshot Day – Getting a Complete Water Quality Picture of Reno/Tahoe

Reno Tahoe residents, want to roll up your sleeves and do something about water quality in our region? The 8th annual Water Quality Snapshot Day needs volunteers Saturday, May 10.

This is a cause near and dear to our hearts here at Western Environmental Testing Laboratory – WETLAB, and we’ve worked as team leaders since the beginning. But you don’t need to be a water quality expert – you just need to care about our regions rivers, lakes and streams.

The idea is to get volunteers from all around Lake Tahoe and along the Truckee River to Pyramid Lake to take water quality samples in order to create a holistic picture of our region’s water. The event not only provides valuable data to area researchers on a large scale, but it’s also a great excuse to get outside and enjoy our region’s beautiful waterways!

All you have to do is meet for a brief orientation at 8:30 a.m. Saturday, May 10. Reno area volunteers will meet at Bartley Ranch Regional Park, 6000 Bartley Ranch Road.

Truckee area volunteers will meet at the Sagehen Field Station, about 10 miles north of Truckee on Highway 89 North.

North Lake Tahoe volunteers will meet at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, and South Lake Tahoe volunteers will meet at the Lake Tahoe Community College cafeteria.

Volunteers will be lead by trained group leaders, fanning out across our watershed to various locations on a variety of streams and tributaries, testing for dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH and temperature, also collecting water samples for laboratory analysis of nutrients, sediments and bacteria. All this data will give important insights into the health of our waterways. You’ll also learn interesting information about our watershed from your team leader.

To sign up as a volunteer, call Mary Kay Riedl at 775-687-9454 for Reno area, Beth Christman at 530-550-8760 for the Truckee area or Susie Kocher at 530-542-2571 for Lake Tahoe.

Map showing the Truckee River drainage basin.

Map showing the Truckee River drainage basin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Enhanced by Zemanta

Finally SNOW!

Over a century ago, our region was characterized by booms and busts in gold and silver. Now it’s water – last year hit the motherload with snowfall in the Sierra for the record books. This year – so far – has been a bust, with the second driest December on record in the northern Sierra – the driest for Reno in 130 years.
While Wetlab’s work is water quality, as a part of the region we’re all watching water quantity too. Reno and Sparks depend on the snowfall in the Sierra slowly melting in the spring and coming down the Truckee River. So no snow has some people concerned.

The first snow survey by the California Department of Water Resources happened just after the first of the year in the Sierra.
The results weren’t surprising to anybody looking up at the bare mountains above Northern Nevada: 21 percent of normal water content for Jan. 3, and 8 percent of where we want to be by April 1, according to the Tahoe Daily Tribune.

The National Integrated Drought Information System rates much of Northern Nevada between “abnormally dry” and “Drought – moderate” and the Northern Sierra to the west in “Drought – Severe” as of January 10.

The good news, according to the Truckee Meadows Water Authority, is there is still plenty of water for its customers, according to a report on KOLO News.
“We know we can withstand at least a nine year drought,” Senior Hydrologist Bill Hauck said to KOLO.

Last year’s huge snowfall helped, leaving enough water stored in Lake Tahoe and area reservoirs for the community, he said.
The dry spell could still effect Northern Nevada residents in the costs of food as scarce water has affected agriculture, according to the report.
And  the dry weather put firefighters on high alert during a red flag warning on Sunday when the wind picked up, according to the National Weather Service.
The culprit has been a large high pressure front blocking storms and sending them both to the north and the south since around Thanksgiving.
But things  have started to change this week, with a the high pressure front being displaced north and a cold front moving into our region, according to the Weather Service.

“A short period of light to moderate rain should spill into the most populated areas by late Thursday afternoon,” according to the forecast discussion. “The strongest storm is still on track to affect the region Friday thru (sic) Saturday. Confidence is quite high for a period of heavy precipitation in eastern California and far western Nevada as subtropical moisture plume with 1.5 inches PW values points straight at the Sierra.”

Let’s hope the trend continues as the winter progresses, and the winter turns into another strong one!

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.