Finding the Balance in Lab Accreditation Changes

  • by Dave Eggerton
  • Jun 21, 2019
  • Voices on Water

More than 650 accredited environmental quality laboratories safeguard water quality in our state, and many of those operate within ACWA member agencies. 

Through the remarkable dedication of their scientists, these laboratories ensure the delivery of safe drinking water to customers in a state with some of the most stringent water quality standards in the nation. Meanwhile, ACWA member agencies invest heavily in building, expanding and constantly improving laboratories. A few of many examples are the works of Eastern Municipal Water District, the Coachella Valley Water District and the Orange County Water District, the subject of this edition’s Spotlight feature.

But despite affecting nearly everything a water agency does, laboratories and the professionals who staff them don’t necessarily receive the recognition they deserve.  That changed a little with this year’s recipient of ACWA’s Excellence in Water Leadership Award, Dr. David Kimbrough, Water Quality Manager at Pasadena Water and Power. Receiving the award at our spring conference, Dr. Kimbrough delivered a thoughtful acceptance speech and pointed out the changing environment in his corner of the water industry.

The Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program – ELAP – working under the State Water Resources Control Board is changing its requirements, which are expected to be presented to the board later this year. 

It’s laudable that the state recognizes water quality testing as a critical priority with no room for compromise. Combined with the quickening pace of testing technology, itself in a race against a new generation of contaminants and contaminate levels, taking a close look at what it takes to qualify as an environmental laboratory makes complete sense.  And where else but water and wastewater should this process start? 

But as with anything impacting water, the smaller the district, the tougher the challenge. Laboratories in typically rural areas could have difficulty hiring more staff and new equipment to remain compliant. If they choose to close laboratories or reduce their capacity, the alternative is shipping samples out of their territory. Depending on the distance, accurate results could be jeopardized for time-sensitive samples. 

Acknowledging the challenges facing some districts, ELAP launched a Mentorship Program to help smooth the process for smaller laboratories. ACWA member agency Mammoth Community Water District’s laboratory was among five selected for the program. This is an excellent example of how the state can collaborate with members of the water industry. At the same time, we need to work together to strike a balance. 

As Dr. Kimbrough pointed out, a healthy network of water quality laboratories will prove critical in addressing threats to water quality. But if changes in accreditation standards cross the line between functional and burdensome, we risk losing more than what we potentially gain if the end result is a significantly smaller network of water quality laboratories. Achieving that balance will require excellent leadership within the state and the water community.

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