Quality is a Way of Life at the San Antonio River Authority

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Last Updated on January 30, 2024

Previously on the blog, we’ve explored the work of our Environmental Sciences Department (ESD) professionals, including our aquatic biologists, data management team, watershed monitoring scientists and laboratory scientists. However, the whole department’s work truly begins and ends with the Quality Assurance staff (QA team). Our team is comprised of three quality assurance professionals with experience in laboratory analysis, field data collection procedures, and quality assurance requirements. We work collaboratively with the River Authority’s scientists to ensure that the data produced from their highly detailed work is held to the highest standard of quality. In the realm of protecting our environment, the work of the QA team ensures that people making crucial decisions for the San Antonio River Basin can have confidence in the data provided by our agency.

P.S. With QA professionals at the keyboard, we can assure you that this blog is of the highest quality!

How does the QA Team Achieve Our Goals

The QA team is tasked with ensuring that the River Authority’s scientists conduct their work in accordance with specified requirements. In other words, we are the crew that makes sure the important work of our water quality scientists, aquatic biologists and watershed ecologists is performed correctly. For our team, quality is THE best policy!

This culture of quality begins with providing ethics training for staff when they join ESD. The QA team is involved from the start, ensuring that ESD staff members are adequately trained and that data quality standards are defined before sample collection begins.

Quality Assurance Specialist Nic Johnson observes habitat assessment training.

So, why do we need to define these standards? If we want to have meaningful data at the end of the process, quality needs to be determined at the beginning before a sample is collected. We are committed to ensuring that the data produced by ESD is of known and documented quality.

Monitoring the Watershed Monitoring Team

The Watershed Monitoring Team collects samples for various projects and efforts, including the Clean Rivers Program (CRP) and stormwater monitoring. These projects have specific data quality requirements for sample collection and laboratory work, which are documented by the QA team and approved by the relevant participants.

Our scientists also collect samples under the guidelines and requirements outlined in the Surface Water Quality Monitoring manual (SWQM), a document created and published by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ). A key role of the QA team is to ensure our staff collects samples according to these requirements. These guidelines are updated by the TCEQ periodically, so it is the responsibility of the River Authority to ensure we are aware of any new requirements and that they are adhered to. These documents specify how our scientists collect water quality samples and assess habitats, fish communities, and benthic macroinvertebrate communities.

Quality Assurance scientist reviews results on computer

Jeanette Hernandez, Quality Assurance Specialist, performs data review for biological and habitat data collection.

The QA team also conducts periodic on-site assessments of the River Authority’s Watershed Monitoring team and our CRP partners. We regularly review paperwork related to specific collection events to ensure conformance and perform integrity audits on data collected by the watershed monitoring team, including verifying that our teams report results correctly and calibrate field instruments appropriately.

Managing the Laboratory Quality System

The River Authority Laboratory is part of a larger group of accredited and nationally standardized laboratories. The QA team is responsible for ensuring the laboratory continues to meet the requirements of The NELAC Institute (TNI) Standard for Environmental Laboratories. This accreditation is required of laboratories where the data is reported to the State of Texas for permit compliance or is used to make decisions.

Scientists discuss findings in the laboratory

Jeanette Hernandez performs an internal audit with Water Quality Scientist Denisse Molgado.

What testing is the lab accredited for? The laboratory is accredited for 19 chemistry parameters, 23 metals parameters and E. coli. You may recall from reading the Life of a Stormwater Blog series about some of these analytes, like Total Suspended Solids, Total Kjeldahl Nitrogen and Total Phosphorus. The QA team’s work includes performing internal audits of laboratory analyses, reviewing documents, data integrity audits, and sample review and validation.

Just One more review!

Once all laboratory analyses are completed, our team does a final review of the data. If a project has specific requirements for reporting data, we confirm these requirements are met and review the data one last time before reporting it to customers in whatever format the project requires.

Scientists reviews papers on lab bench.

Nic Johnson conducts a data integrity check.

As you can see, the work of the QA team is vital to the work of the Environmental Sciences Department. Managing the quality system for ESD ensures that our team’s environmental data is used to make the most informed decisions to protect the San Antonio River Basin.

Can’t get enough quality (assurance) content? Here are some resources to learn more!

The Texas Clean Rivers Program

The NELAC Institute 

Surface Water Quality Monitoring Procedures 

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