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Enhancing water quality monitoring in Colombia – international cooperation now under way

News 2020-04-03 at 17:31
The final meeting of the training period. From left: Maria Constanza Rosero Mesa, Nury Alejandra Mesa, Claudia Nicole Tetay Botia, Sebastian Cotrino, Catalina Ospina Espitia, Carlos Martin Velasquez Ramirez, Riitta Koivikko and Danilo Uasapud.  © IDEAM

A Finno-Colombian cooperation project aimed at improving the monitoring of water quality in Colombia was launched at the beginning of the year. The quality assurance of laboratory work is a key element of the project.

In February, Riitta Koivikko, Senior Research Scientist at the Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE), spent two weeks in the Colombian capital, Bogotá, training laboratory staff at the country’s largest environmental research centre, IDEAM (The Institute of Hydrology, Meteorology and Environmental Studies of Colombia).

The two-week training event was part of the COFI-Water project, which aims to strengthen the Colombian environmental authorities’ capacity to monitor and analyse water quality. In the future, IDEAM can also share its insights with other environmental laboratories in Colombia.

Boosting the quality of laboratory work

During the eight-day-long training event, the participants largely focused on quality assurance for laboratories, since IDEAM is consolidating its position as a reference laboratory in the country. IDEAM has modern laboratory facilities that offer good opportunities to develop its analytics to match the international ISO quality standard.

“We looked into their water analysis methods to determine which of them primarily required quality assurance. As part of our training, we introduced the MUkit application, used to calculate measurement uncertainty, in Colombia,” explains Koivikko, who works with quality aspects related to environmental analytics at the Finnish Environment Institute’s laboratory centre.

“I was pleased to see that the participants found the training to be important and that the atmosphere was inspiring and raised discussion. At times, we had over 20 participants, including IDEAM’s entire laboratory staff as well as representatives of other laboratories who found the topics interesting. The project got off to a good start, and we all got to know each other,” says Koivikko.

At IDEAM, surface water monitoring is an important part of laboratory work. The laboratory also carries out some sediment analyses. Water samples are examined for nutrients, heavy metals and pesticides, among other things. Heavy metals, such as mercury, are also analysed from sediments. In addition, the monitoring programme focuses on biological variables, such as benthos in rivers. Comparisons of biological methods with the methods used in Finland are also of interest.

COFI-water-kokous

Online meeting of  IDEAMin and SYKE.  From left: Carlos Martin Velasquez Ramirez, Sebastian Cotrino, Riitta Koivikko, Danilo Uasapud and Nury Alejandra Mesa. © IDEAM

Comprehensive monitoring is needed to improve the quality of water bodies

The reliable assessment of water quality is essential to prudently determine the scope and focus of environmental protection measures. It also secures for all people equal access to clean water and water sanitation.

“The quality of water is a major problem in the Colombian water bodies in our research area. The country has hardly any wastewater treatment plants, and domestic water is often extracted from the same waters into which wastewater is discharged. The capacity for water quality monitoring should be clearly increased in the country. The frequency of sampling in particular must be increased, and monitoring should be extended from rivers to lakes and groundwater areas. We also plan to jointly develop automated water quality monitoring,” explains Sari Mitikka, a limnologist at the Finnish Environment Institute and head of the COFI-Water project.

The next items on the COFI-Water agenda include planning communication actions, translating laboratory instructions into Spanish and surveying the laboratory staff’s needs for further training.

According to plans, a group of Colombian laboratory employees will participate in a training event organised in Finland in the early autumn. Later in the autumn, the Finnish Environment Institute and IDEAM will hold a joint workshop and seminar in Colombia.

The goal of the “Strengthening water quality monitoring and assessment in Colombia (COFI-Water)” project is to boost the capacity of IDEAM to plan, build and use water quality assessment systems in Colombia. The project also aims to ensure that IDEAM can train other laboratories in the country and serve as a national reference laboratory. Project preparations began in September 2019 and practical work was launched in early 2020.

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Further information

  • Riitta Koivikko, Senior Research Scientist, Finnish Environment Institute, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi, tel. +358 295 251 750
  • Sari Mitikka, Limnologist, Finnish Environment Institute, firstname.lastname@ymparisto.fi, tel. +358 295 251 430

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