A dance with chemistry
In an environment filled with sophisticated analytical instruments, glassware, chemical reagents, and clad in a white lab coat and glasses, Dr. Ahmed Kadry, Ph.D. conducts water samples from across the Brazos River basin.
Dr. Kadry, the Brazos River Authority lab manager, monitors the watershed’s water quality. It’s no small task as the area stretches some 1,050 miles, comprising 45,510 square miles. The work encompasses more than the Brazos River and the lakes, streams, and tributaries within the basin.
The BRA’s environmental services laboratory tests a diverse set of physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of the water samples, reporting each measurement into a vast database administered by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The work monitors the river we love.
Dr. Kadry and his team of dedicated analysts do it all while maintaining the lab’s accreditation through the TCEQ under the National Environmental Laboratory Accreditation Program since 2003.
“We have eight aquatic scientists that go out into the field and monitor the environment of the basin and sample roughly 150 sites,” Kadry said. “Each site, we call them sampling sites, has somewhere between seven and eight parameters we test for. It’s a small lab, but we put out a lot of data.”
Kadry graduated from Cairo University in Egypt with a Bachelor of Science degree in chemistry. Kadry, a U.S. Marine, worked for Dallas Water Utilities before he concentrated on his graduate studies. In 1988, he earned his Master of Science degree from the University of Texas and in 2002 received his doctorate in environmental chemistry from the University of North Texas.
Discovering the importance of water for life on Earth directed his passion for learning
“Chemistry is a huge field, like medicine, you have all sorts of classifications and fields to choose from,” he said. “I thought it was a worthy goal, to make sure our waters are clean and fit to drink and support life. I started learning the business and how the water is actually cleaned, whether cleaned to drink or cleaned to put back in the environment.”
With a newfound interest in water quality, Kadry applied for a senior environmental chemist position at the Brazos River Authority’s Central Office in Waco. He began working at the lab in 2003, and a year later was promoted to lab manager.
The lab has evolved over the years, but it continues to take advantage of as much automation as possible. With three lab employees, Kadry said, the team stays very busy.
The work is easier due to his coworkers.
“I work with outstanding people. I am really blessed to have people like them. One is Liz, or Elizabeth Everett, and the other is David Clay Sellers. Those people are just outstanding. The amount of work they put out, the organization, the paperwork, are just phenomenal. It’s really a blessing to have people like that working with you.”
BRA employees are the backbone of the organization, and Dr. Kadry is no exception, said Tiffany Malzahn, BRA environmental and compliance manager.
“I hold each employee to a high standard for policies, procedures, and documentation to ensure all produced data meets the same level of quality and analytical requirements of different regulatory programs,” Malzahn said. “The Brazos River Authority’s environmental sciences laboratory has continuously added new analytical capabilities over the years, and with the new capabilities, the qualifications of laboratory staff have grown to meet those needs. Ahmed leads those within the lab to meet such demands.”
A look inside water
Dr. Kadry and the laboratory staff work to ensure accurate and timely completion of all required analyses. The analytical results help support the Texas Clean Rivers Program, established by the Texas Clean Rivers Act, which requires an ongoing assessment of water quality issues and management strategies statewide to guide Texas water resources policy and decision-making.
To top it off, all BRA-generated surface water quality data is publicly available on the BRA’s website.
Without a doubt, they stay busy.
“What we try to show is that the Brazos River water is clean from one, a physical point of view, two, a chemical point of view, and a bacteriological point of view,” Kadry said.
So how do you tell it’s clean?
Kadry looks at the details.
Physical characteristics of water can include turbidity, such as if there are a lot of solids and if the water is muddy. Bacteria will always exist in nature, but the samples and testing help ensure the level of certain bacteria in the water is acceptable, Kadry said. Analysis is done for mineral salts (chloride and sulfate), chlorophyll a, an indicator of algae growth, and pollution-indicating bacteria, including E. coli and Enterococcus.
“You can’t help having E. coli in a sample, but how much is there is what matters,” he said.
Lab staff identifies chemicals in the water-based on salinity, such as the concentration of sulfates and nutrients in a sample.
“All living things need carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus,” Kadry said. “These are nutrients that are important for living organisms to sustain life. If there are too many nutrients, algae will just start blooming; then, the water quality goes down. There is a happy medium nature must maintain. Those numbers are important to show that water doesn’t have the potential to be polluted.”
Dr. Kadry said time has a big effect on the samples. It is critical to analyze nutrients within 48 hours since they dissipate quickly from samples. The testing of bacteria is also very time-sensitive because the bacteria will die after a certain amount of time. On the other end of the timetable, sodium chloride and sulfates can sit up to 28 days, Kadry said.
The results of all the data are transferred to the TCEQ, and eventually the Environmental Protection Agency, which can proceed with any actions they deem necessary to address any abnormalities in the watershed.
A time to dance
When he isn’t working, Kadry continues to stay on the move.
He lives in Waco during the week and returns to his family on the weekends in Dallas. He spends most of his free time square dancing.
“I like to dance, period,” Kadry said. “Any dancing, in any form or fashion. For a while, I did ballroom dancing. It’s not like you see on television. It’s really a different type of dancing. I was taking a music appreciation class in Dallas, and this lady came in, and she said she was wearing a square dance attire. I was fascinated, and she took me to a square dance to observe. I liked it right off. That was back in the late 90s.”
Kadry said, with a laugh, he’s been married to his wife since 1975, and she still doesn’t like to dance. Dancing or no dancing, she’s still the one, he said.
“Marrying her is the best thing I’ve done in my life,” he said. “Once in a while, I make a good decision.”