Western Environmental
Testing Laboratory
Announcing SVOC Certification at WETLAB

Organic compounds are present in both indoor and outdoor environments, as they are necessary ingredients of products and materials we use every day.  Semi Volatile Organic Compounds (SVOC) are a subgroup of Volatile Organic Compounds (VOC) that have a higher molecular weight and boiling point (240-260 C to 380-400 C) and are present in everyday items like pesticides and fire retardants.

SVOCs are analyzed by sample extraction and the extract is analyzed by Gas Chromatography/ Mass Spectrometry (GC/MS).  The reported analytics can be separated into three groups (acids, bases, and neutrals) and are sometimes referred to as Base/Neutrals and Acids. WETLAB is currently in method development to perform the analysis of municipal and industrial wastewater by EPA 265 and solid waste, soils, and waste samples by EPA 8270.

At WETLAB, we are constantly trying new ideas, methods, and analyses to better serve our clients.  Contact us at (775) 355-0202 to find out how our new, in-house SVOC analysis can help you get the environmental testing results you need.

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!


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.

Effluent water could soon become part of your normal drinking water in Northern Nevada.  According to KTVN, reclaimed water is around 30% cheaper than potable water, but the problem is that waste water is not drinkable yet. Yet is the key word here, because regulations that define how much the water will need to be treated are working their way through the Nevada state legislature, and lawmakers are hoping to see them adopted by the 2017 session.

As everyone knows, Northern Nevada is suffering a severe drought.  Having another way to reuse water will have a great, positive environmental impact on our already low waterways.  Effluent water is already being used in some ways, mostly to irrigate parks and golf courses, but more could be put back into eventual use by the proposed measure.  The process involves injecting semi-treated water directly into the ground, so that it will later make its way back into our pipes.  This will ease the strain that is currently put on the Truckee River, which will in turn help with our ecosystem.

Effluent water is defined as waste-water, whether treated or not, that flows out from an industrial treatment plant or sewer.  Secondary effluent is that same water that has been treated, but not to the point of purity.  Obviously, the main difference between potable and effluent water is the cleanliness of the water, and its fitness for human consumption.

WETLAB preforms several tests on effluent water for many different clients, including public and private companies.  Some of these tests are Biochemical Oxygen Demand (BOD), which tests how much oxygen demand the effluent water has, and Total Suspended Solids (TSS), which tests the amount of suspended solids within an aqueous sample.  Several other tests are often performed in tandem on effluent water samples, including Total Nitrogen, Nitrate + Nitrite, Ammonia, Total Phosphorous, and Fecal Coliform.  These tests all provide a detailed profile of what exactly is contained in an effluent sample, and allow proprietors to know how to best treat their water.

Singapore and Texas have already implemented effluent-to-drinking-water purification systems, with positive results.  To read more about this program in Nevada, and to see an interesting news report on it, click 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.

With the Sierra snowpack 1/3rd of normal for this time of year, it doesn’t look like a recovery from drought conditions are likely, according to an article on KSBW.com.

A survey earlier this month found the Truckee River Basin was only at 32 percent of normal, the Tahoe Basin was at 47 percent and the Carson River Basin was at 55 percent, according to the article. It’s an improvement from a month prior, where the snowpack was as low as 14 percent of normal.

While reduced irrigation and watering are a typical reaction to pending drought conditions, some experts in the Reno area are actually urging residents and businesses to water trees to help them survive the drought, according to an article written by the Associated Press.

The Reno Urban Forestry Commission says the region has seen a significant increase in tree deaths over the past several years, which is a threat to public safety and requires costly removal, according to the article.

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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Sunrise over a smoky Northern Nevada

Sunrise over a smoky Northern Nevada (Photo credit: lacomj)

Cloud Seeding – Milking More Moisture out of Clouds for Northern Nevada

It sounds like science fiction to those who are unfamiliar, but it’s a practice that’s been in place in Northern Nevada and the California mountains to the west for more than 25 years.

Cloud Seeding – a practice in which mountaintop generators spray particles of silver iodide into storm clouds to boot ice particle formation and snowfall – has been said to increase the snowpack that feeds the Truckee River (Reno/Sparks major water supply) by an average of about 18,000 acre-feet per year, according to an article in the Reno Gazette Journal.

According to the Desert Research Institute, over the last 15 years cloud seeding has created enough snow water to supply 140,000 households annually over the last 15 years.

Last year, a particularly dry year for the Sierra and Northern Nevada, along with much of the west, DRI estimated an increase of 21,600 acre-feet of water, according to the RGJ article.

For reference, an acre-foot of water is 325,851 gallons – enough to supply two average homes for more than a year.

Funding was cut to the Desert Research Institute by the state legislature in 2009, but regional government entities, including the Truckee Meadows Water Authority and Western Water Commission are poised to pay for the process again this year.

“We feel it’s money well spent,” said Mark Foree, general manager of the Truckee Meadows Water Authority. “Certainly anything that can help our snowpack is something we are interested in.”

In considering the water quality impacts on spraying silver iodide into clouds to create snow and rain, the Weather Modification Association says “There is no evidence that suggests cloud seeding creates any significant negative environmental impacts on the environment. Assessments of soil, vegetation and surface runoff haven’t shown levels of silver iodine above natural background levels.

Desert Research Institute’s cloud seeding is expanding, starting with a 3-year program in southern Nevada to boost the snowpack in the Walker River watershed.

What do you think of cloud seeding? Let us know by commenting on this post on our Facebook page.

English: Cloud seeding. Deutsch: "Impfung...

English: Cloud seeding. Deutsch: “Impfung” von Wolken um künstlich Regen zu erzeugen. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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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.