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Exposure Research

EPA scientist helps advance water quality assessments of streams and rivers in Argentina

Posted: May 1, 2013

EPA scientist, Dr. Joseph Flotemersch, didn’t expect to make his own sampling nets out of bamboo and scrap metal during a trip to Argentina where he conducted field work and delivered workshops on the bioassessment and monitoring of rivers and streams.

“You may not always have the specific equipment you need – that’s why it’s important to learn to work with the resources available to you,” said Flotemersch.

Flotemersch spent nearly three weeks in the Neuquén Province, Patagonia, Argentina in January and February, 2013. He was invited by the General Director of Aquatic Biology with the Ministry of Environment and Sustainable Development of the Neuquén Province. Flotemersch was sought out because of his reputation as an international expert on rivers, a review of his online publications, and based on recommendations from international non-profit organizations.

Flotemersch’s visit prompted U.S. Ambassador to Argentina Vilma Martinez to write a letter to Lek Kadeli, Principal Deputy Assistant Administrator for Management of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, congratulating EPA on a “highly successful technical exchange with Argentina.”

“This technical exchange represents an important contribution to the cumulative U.S.-Argentine bilateral relationship,” Martinez wrote. Argentinean Secretary of State for Environmental and Sustainable Development, Ricardo Esquivel, also wrote a letter to the Director of EPA’s National Exposure Research Laboratory, Jennifer Orme-Zavaleta, commending Flotemersch on his outstanding contributions to the Neuquén Province.

River and stream protection is a growing concern in Argentina due to increases in development. Runoff from construction is entering streams and rivers raising a variety concerns for the health of the community and the rivers. The rivers are an important part of Argentina’s culture as well as economy, making protection a priority for the province.

“These are problems the U.S. is already familiar with, and we have the knowledge and capabilities to handle such issues,” said Flotemersch. “This is why it is so important to share our expertise on an international level - so we can work together to solve problems globally.”

During his visit, Flotemersch worked with representatives from six aquatic resource management facilities within the Neuquén Province to identify strategies to maximize use of existing data, equipment, and expertise.

“A major issue with the current river monitoring and protection program is not necessarily the lack of resources, but the inability to use those resources effectively and efficiently,” said Flotemersch.

Flotemersch trained groups at each facility and helped identify how to achieve water monitoring and protection goals with resources that were available. In addition, Flotemersch developed a technical program consisting of representatives from each facility to coordinate resources and build expertise based on international best practices.

Advancing Argentinean watershed protection capabilities

The visit prompted Argentine officials to provide additional funding to the aquatic research facility in San Martin de los Andes - one of the six facilities Flotemersch worked with. Prior to his departure, the teams Flotemersch worked with collaboratively drafted the first ever bioassement reports for the Quilquihue and Chimehuin rivers. The visit also led to the creation of a streams and rivers conservation curriculum for the Forestry program at the National University of Comahue, where Flotemersch participated in staff discussions.

The Argentine government hopes to advance the development of current watershed capabilities through the program Flotemersch helped develop. The next step for the province is to move forward with methodological aspects of the program and evaluation of results. Overtime, it is envisioned that the streams and rivers program will serve as a model that can be adopted by other provinces in Argentina. Neuquén Province hopes to develop an outreach program to share their work and transfer their experience to protect resources in surrounding areas. A potential student exchange program or scientist exchange program is also an interest.

Future training and research

“There are many advantages of working with the Argentine government for our scientists as well,” said Flotemersch. “The rivers in Argentina are unique because they often contain only one or two stressors or exposures, whereas rivers in the U.S. typically contain many. This provides an excellent field for diagnostic testing.”

A possible area of future research is on the adjacent Quilquihue and Chimehuin rivers to discover why at the confluence of these two rivers, one has the invasive algae Didymosphenia geminata, and the other does not. Findings could help in discovering factors controlling the spread of the algae which could not only benefit Argentina where the algae is a threat to trout fisheries, but could benefit the rest of the world as well.

Flotemersch hopes to return to the Neuquén Province to assist the Argentine government in taking the next steps in program development and begin the initial steps of outreach to surrounding provinces. Eventually the government would like to train scientists in Neuquén Province to serve as instructors to other provinces to protect surrounding resources.

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