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Integrated Water Chemistry Assessment Laboratory

The Integrated Water Chemistry Assessment Laboratory (IWCAL) conducts world-class research specifically related to the development and application of new analytical and modeling methodologies for the determination of contaminants in water, sediment, and tissue that impact human health and aquatic environments.

The Integrated Water Chemistry Assessment Laboratory (IWCAL) is located in Boulder, Colorado. Our research goals are to:

  1. Evaluate the quality and amount of water available for human and ecological needs
  2. Identify the processes and stressors that degrade water quality and limit water availability
  3. Produce measurement science data, models, and mapper-based visualization tools to aid water resource managers
  4. Validate and improve predictive water modeling capabilities over a range of spatial and temporal scales to aid in decision making and management of water infrastructure and water-related hazards like wildfires, floods, and chemical spills. 

Our interdisciplinary team integrates hydrological, chemical, and biological analyses, field work, on-site mobile laboratories, and web-accessible, map-based modeling applications to synthesize and interpret the complicated hydrologic and ecological interactions within complex aqueous mixtures. We have special emphasis on assessing water quality, water uses, and water suitability for human and ecological needs through identification and investigation of stressors, stressor sources, controlling processes, exposure effects, along with our measurement science data being used to calibrate and validate hydrologic models.  Our research-to-operations (R2O) approach delivers foundational science data and decision-support tools for the USGS, Department of Interior, and water resource managers related to water reclamation and reuse, water infrastructure or technology improvements, and the real and perceived adverse effects to water quality and biological health connected to anthropogenic chemicals in the aqueous environments, such as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and natural disasters like wildfire and flooding.  

The tools developed by IWCAL support decisions made by water and land resource managers to investigate water quality and water availability stressors, their sources and socioeconomic drivers, and to evaluate both the adverse and beneficial impacts associated with water reuse, chemical spills, infrastructure, and management practices (mitigation, treatment, agriculture applications, etc.). Our measurement data and assessment tools are applicable to USGS Water Resources Mission Area programs including Integrated Water Availability Assessments (IWAAs) and Next Generation Water Observing System (NGWOS). They also support mission-critical programs at USGS Water Science Centers (WSCs) and other Mission Areas including Environmental Health, Ecosystems, and Land Resources. For example, IWCAL, in partnership with the Virginia and West Virginia WSC, has utilized modeling, measurement science, and GIS data to develop a web-based mapping tool to estimate accumulated wastewater ratios in stream reaches and predict environmental concentrations of over 60 organic constituents, including PFAS, carbamazepine, estrone, atrazine, and other biologically active chemicals found in consumer products, pharmaceuticals, and pesticides.


Chemical Analysis Capabilities

  • GC-MS-MS (Gas Chromatography Tandem Mass Spectrometry): Molecular markers of municipal and industrial wastewater impacts on water quality and availability
  • GC-MS/MS: Endogenous and synthetic hormones, sterols, and other endocrine disruptors or paleo proxies for human or livestock activities (GC-MS/MS)
  • GC-MS/MS: Amino-carboxylic metal complexation agents
  • GC-MS/MS: Aquatic Hazards Target Compounds for a high certainty screening assessment of molecular markers with toxicological effects and/or source-tracing capabilities for stressors of water quality and availability for suitable use
  • GC-MS/MS: Source-specific wildfire biomarkers and paleo fire proxy
  • ASE (Accelerated Solvent Extraction system): efficient extraction of trace-level organic contaminants and molecular markers in solid matrices such as sediments, soils, and tissue
  • ICP-MS (Inductively Couple Plasma MS): Trace elements, including rare earth elements (REE)
  • ICP-OES (ICP-Optical Emission Spectrometry): Major elements
  • IC (Ion Chromatography): major anions
  • DOC/TOC (Dissolved and Total Organic Carbon Analyzer) and UV-254 Aromaticity Analysis
  • HydroLab Multiparameter Water Quality Sonde: Field parameters including temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity


Biological Analysis Capabilities

  • ELISA + UV/Vis (Enzyme-linked Immunosorbent Assays (ELISA) and UV/Vis Spectroscopy): high throughput water-quality assessments for PPCPs
  • Microarray Analyses, Histology, and qPCR (quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction analyzer): molecular, microscopy, and transcriptomic tools for assessing biological effects of complex aqueous mixtures on aquatic species
  • Flow Cytometer: sorting and quantification of physical and chemical characteristics of a population cells or particles (including microplastics) in aqueous samples


Hydrologic Modeling, Exposure Risk Assessment, and Field Capabilities

  • A de facto wastewater reuse modeling framework and web-based mapper and visualization tool for determining percent accumulated wastewater in a stream reach, estimating predicted environmental concentrations for over 60 priority pollutants, and prioritizing risk assessment with hazardous risk indices.
  • Mobile laboratories used for in-situ surface water and groundwater exposure to model organisms
  • SPE-bot active samplers: field-deployed active samplers capable of large volume integrated samples of surface water, wastewater effluent, groundwater, and tap water using in-situ solid phase extraction (SPE), electronic volume counters, and microprocessor controls


Affiliate team members on specific projects: