Monday, December 23, 2013

Los Alamos National Laboratory Internship

Hello ENVS Real Life Blogging World!
My name is Marina Meneakis and I am currently a Senior at WSCU majoring in ENVS with a water emphasis and minoring in Biology. In order to fulfill my Environment and Sustainability Internship, I chose to reach out and use my current internship with Los Alamos National Laboratories. I started my career with them in June of 2009 between my junior and senior year of high school and have been fortunate enough to stay with them and utilize this opportunity. Because of the unique circumstances of how I have to complete my internship in a different location and over different periods of time, I am only writing one blog for the week of Thanksgiving break when I completed my first credit of three for the internship. As I complete the following two credits over Winter break, I will be posting more. So lets begin....
Located in Los Alamos, New Mexico, Los Alamos National Laboratories (LANL) is historically known for their nuclear weapon development and production for WWII. More specifically, the construction of both nuclear bombs Fat Man and Little Boy. Now, I know what your thinking. How is it that LANL qualifies for a Environment and Sustainability Internship? Well, just like many other things that require clean up after production, LANL has some cleaning up to do. The waste that was generated from creating Fat Man and Little Boy alone was enough to have detrimental impacts on the environment and yet the laboratories continued to produce them throughout the years and still are today. Somewhere along that road, they realized the impacts they were having on the environment and began to make chances by creating the Associate Directorate of Environmental Programs or ADEP. As a member of ADEP's team, our mission is to clean up and protect legacy waste sites in northern New Mexico, process and ship hazardous waste materials to disposal facilities, and monitor both ground and surface water to maintain controls. The organization that I work with under the directorate, Engineering and Technology Environmental Investigations (ET-EI), provides support in the areas of environmental investigation and remediation by monitoring, collecting, and analyzing stormwater
During my work over Thanksgiving break, I completed two objectives within the work place. The first was field work where myself and one other visited our sampling locations from the summer to retrieve automated water samplers. In our case, we were decommissioning Global Water Samplers for the winter and bringing them into the Stormwater Laboratory for cleaning and preparation for the next monitoring season. Field work at the Laboratories consists of proper training (for physical conduction of the work and for the vehicles used in the field), Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), and work orders. Work orders are the paper work aspect of the field basically recording conditions of the station and equipment upon arrival and departure along with a "to-do" list of tasks needed to be performed while visiting each location. The second objective I needed to complete was analyzing precipitation data from 2008 forward and calculating the 30 minute maximum intensities for each storm event within those dates. Using radio telemetry, I pulled 5 minute and 15 minute raw data from roughly 30 different gage stations and meteorological towers into Excel to organize and filter the data to show only the rain events that triggered sufficient storms. Then, I went through and analyzed each individual storm calculating total precip, 30 minute maximum intensities, and duration. All in all, the experience was very educational teaching me about federal government protocol, field work, and the many ways that precipitation data is utilized.
Until next time.....
M

Friday, October 4, 2013

Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator Slogans

In touring two local waste water treatment plants (Crested Butte South and Gunnison), and working with many different operators, here are some of their similar comments:

-A lot of people in the waste water industry are getting close to retirement. Many of these operators have worked at the plant for thirty years or more, and are now reaching retirement age. This means there are a lot of positions about to open up locally. I imagine this is trend nationwide with the majority of operators close to retirement.
-These plants were both very small, which had many advantages. These operators had many more aspects of running the facility that they took part including maintenance, waste water treatment, lab work, and any other tasks as needed. Large cities tend to have operators "sit in a room and turn a knob," instead of being involved in all aspects of the facility. Working in a smaller plant provides more opportunities to learn new things, and less boredom.
-The job security is very stable "because everyone poops." Demand for these positions is not expected to decrease, which brings me to the next popular slogan "one way or another, that crap's got to get cleaned up". I appreciate the sense of humor of these operators!
-The water treatment licenses from testing (Distribution and Collection, waste water class licenses, drinking water class licenses, etc) can also be applied to other fields, such as certifying drinking water for restaurants, campgrounds, and other facilities. There are other water testing positions that require licensing, and it's possible to start your own business doing water testing.

Later!

Stages of Cleaning Waste Water and Introduction to Water Treatment Plants

Hello out there,
This is only my second blog for my internship experience, but I have a lot to say.
Here is what I have learned and experienced so far:
I have a much deeper understanding of the waste water treatment plant in Gunnison. Contrary to popular belief, the waste water treatment plant does not smell bad!

Here is a quick overview of the cleaning process:
There are four stages to cleaning water. This is standard for most waste water treatment plants, but there is some variation from plant to plant.
1. The first stage is pre-treatment, which is removing hard waste that does not include human waste such as paper towels, condoms, etc.
2. The second stage is introducing the bugs (micro-organisms) to the waste, providing an oxygen rich environment to allow them to digest the waste efficiently.
3. The third stage is clarifying the waste water, which can vary depending on the treatment plant. The purpose of the clarifier is to allow the solid waste and bugs to settle to the bottom (where they die), which is a slow process. There is a slow moving scraper, which keeps the water moving, and pushes oils and greases on the top layer of the water into a trap.
4. The fourth stage is cleaning the water by using UV lights. The lights do not kill the bugs, but destroys the ability for the bugs to reproduce. On a side note, the solid waste takes about 22 days to cycle through the treatment plant, and in that time recycles through the stages two and three over and over to make the water even more pure. The sludge removed from the water is then separated in a splitter, removing the water from the solid waste. The waste then is dehydrated even more, which is then turned into compost.

The treatment plants are essentially run by the bugs- they are doing all of the work to decompose the waste. The Front Range areas that were affected by flooding actually had to bring in live bugs in order to start the plants back up again since the bugs that were in the plants died off after eating all of the available food supply.
Go bugs!

Friday, September 20, 2013

Hello ENVS Blogging Universe,
My name Zach Campbell, and I am a senior at Western State University of Colorado majoring in Environmental Studies with a water emphasis. I grew up in Summit County, Colorado in the town of Montezuma where I first learned the importance of water. Our well water had high iron levels, which required cleaning methods to ensure the water was drinkable. Working the drinking water in my home sparked my interest in water. There was a river and waterfall that ran through the backyard, which I always enjoyed being around (picture below).

This semester I am interning with Gunnison Public Works, focusing on water treatment facilities. The purpose of the internship is to allow me to gain a deeper understanding of how important water is in our culture. I intend to learn about aspects of water treatment from establishing wells all the way through to water sanitation. I want to get a feel for the industry of waste water treatment, and meet new people in the industry. I also intend to study for and take the level D water licensing exam.

I started working with the Gunnison Wastewater Treatment plant, and have toured the facility. Dale Picard showed me testing procedures for the properties of water. He explained state mandates for levels (such as nitrogen, alkalinity, oxygen, and many others) in water released after treatment.

There is a lot to learn in this industry, and I look forward to the rest of my internship.

Monday, August 12, 2013


I thought for at least one of these entries I would discuss a topic that does not directly relate to water….Unfortunately there really is not a whole lot that doesn’t relate, but there are a few files that discuss mining impacts on water that I thought interesting to read.  Also, abandoned mines are scattered all over this valley, acting as pollution sources to our rivers, and therefore it is an important set of files to bring attention to.  Let’s face it, these mines make up a very important part of the history of the area, but we certainly known their safety standards were not up to par with having this many people live in the area.  This file discusses just some of the major mines that were pollution problem sources throughout the Valley.  This is of course also the location of the information regarding the famous Mt. Emmons or as it is commonly referred to “Red Lady”

Red Lady is not the file that I find the most interesting though. If you guide yourself to the file that contains information on the Standard Mine, this is where the interesting information is contained.  For those familiar with the term Superfund, this mine is one that was put on the list to be cleaned up using the Superfund.  The Superfund was established after the Love Canal incident took place in Niagara Falls, New York.  It was established as a way to clean up serious environmental threats, usually ones that can threaten human health as well.  Perhaps comparing the Love Canal incident to cleaning up the Standard Mine is a little extreme, but it is enough to make this one stick in my mind real well.  I have also taken frequent trips to this area for hiking and rock hounding so it was already very familiar to me. 

Sunday, August 11, 2013


The next file set that I found interesting was the files that pertained to the Colorado River Endangered Fish Recovery Program.  As a fisherman myself it was good for me to get to see the fish that are endangered in the Colorado River just in case I ever ran across them.  More importantly, it was good to see that they Recovery Program was so well organized and popular.  I had assumed this was only a sate-wide effort, however it is much more of an effort enforced by the entire river basin.

The important section to our Valley is the one that pertains to the Dallas and Dolores Creek endangered fish.  Earlier I had discussed that there was not a lot of public information present since our area is not very popular or populated. This is a prime example of some key information that may be difficult to find elsewhere.  Neither of these areas are heavily visited or studied, but since there is information available it opens the door for further study especially when utilized in an academic environment.  Enough talking, I will let you dive in and see what you can come up with. I am off to see some fish for myself….


Another File that I already mentioned but found to be extremely interesting and useful is the compilation of files titled Cloud Seeding. There are files for each year from before 2002 to 2007. Currently there still remain small efforts to have private cloud seeding projects in the Valley, but after reading through many of these files, I can see why the concept needs more development to continue in the Valley. 

A good portion of the files that make up this chunk are simple emails discussing cloud seeding activity in the area.  At first glimpse these seem meaningless and excessive because generally they are short and there is A LOT of them in each section. However after getting a chance to read through all these a pattern began to emerge that seemed a bit unsettling.  After each winter storm was seeded, often times there still would not be a drastic change in the amount of snowfall.  Once and a while they would be able to report a couple inches extra, but most of the time they would see no change or the storm would not be acceptable to seed for one reason or another. 

This was also an interesting topic because it is one that I had heard a lot about throughout my time spent in the classroom at Western.  In these folders you can also find very useful articles and designs for how these seeding projects took place.  Again a lot of the designs for the seeding devices looked a little outdated, for instance they use devices that release the silver iodide from the ground rather than current trends that use planes to deliver the dose.  However, it does give an interesting look into how cloud seeding has developed through the years.  Perhaps we can expect to see more new developments to increase the effectiveness of this process.