EPA lake survey yields lab contract

TUESDAY, AUG. 28, 2007

A Moscow, Idaho, firm recently won federal contracts worth as much as $1 million to test thousands of samples of tiny aquatic plants and animals collected during a nationwide lake survey, the company’s CEO said Monday.

EcoAnalysts Inc. workers will analyze samples of phytoplankton, algae and other minute free-floating plants, and zooplankton, microscopic water animals, for the Survey of the Nation’s Lakes, said CEO Gary Lester. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency contracts are the largest ever for the 12-year-old company, which had revenues of about $1.6 million last year, he said.

The company – which specializes in identifying insects, fish and other aquatic life – already has added two positions because of the deals, Lester said. He anticipates adding a few more. The company has more than 30 workers and offices in five states.

The national survey of 909 randomly selected lakes, including dozens in Washington and Idaho, will use samples to determine the health of water bodies. The study seeks to find the ecological and recreational health of lakes and determine the importance of stressors such as nutrients and pathogens, according to the EPA.

A report based on the data compiled by EcoAnalysts and other labs is due in 2009.

EcoAnalysts’ labs in Moscow and Joplin, Mo., will seek to classify about 1,300 phytoplankton and roughly 1,500 zooplankton samples down to their species or genus, Lester said. The results are due by April.

“We’re going to see just about everything that’s out there,” Lester said. “Which is good. We’ve seen most of it already, but there will be some stuff that we’re really looking forward to getting our hands on.”

State officials in Washington and Idaho plan to sample additional randomly selected lakes, for a total of 30 in each state, said Lillian Herger, a fisheries biologist for EPA Region 10. In Washington, Moses, Cle Elum, Jump Off Joe and Bailey lakes will be sampled, said Maggie Bell-McKinnon, a biologist for the state Department of Ecology. Idaho lakes that may be sampled include Coeur d’Alene, Hayden and Hauser lakes, according to Mary Anne Kosterman, a water quality standards analyst for the Idaho Department of Environmental Quality.

EcoAnalysts technicians will look at preserved samples under microscopes and create a list of the sub-samples from each site, Lester said.

Lakes will be retested in five years, Herger said.

Lester founded EcoAnalysts as a graduate student at the University of Idaho with fellow UI alumnus CFO Scott Lindstrom. The firm has identified more than 33,000 samples from around the U.S., and it has worked on projects in Australia, Brazil, Peru and other countries. The company says it can process more than 4,000 samples yearly.

EcoAnalysts is one of only a few similar labs nationwide, and Lester has “one of the more extensive organizations that I’ve had the opportunity to work with,” Kosterman said.

EcoAnalysts also is working with the Kootenai Tribe of Idaho to see how the Kootenai River is affected by added nutrients, Lester said. The company is doing sampling at the Palmerton Zinc Superfund site in Pennsylvania and has worked with Idaho Power Co. on relicensing investigations studying the effects of hydropower on endangered snails, he said.

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