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In Oklahoma, depending on the economy and climate, the two most important things coming out of the ground are oil and water. Testing the quality of the latter isn’t just about making sure what comes out of the kitchen faucet is potable either, with sources from waste water plants to wells requiring constant monitoring to ensure the content and quality meets environmental standards.Lawton, Okla.’s Southern Plains Environmental Laboratory, LLC, or SPEL, is one business working across the state of Oklahoma to help ensure the safety of its water resources.

Citizen Potawatomi Nation tribal member Lou Ann Carlstrom has 27-years of experience in the water quality sector from her time working for the City of Lawton. For 15 years she served as a chemist and five as the chief chemist for the city’s water treatment facilities.

Carlstrom began working in the private industry for herself in 2011 when she founded SPEL. She had attended a seminar at Great Plains Technology Center in Lawton and met with the Citizen Potawatomi Nation’s Community Development Corporation’s Commercial Loan Associate Felecia Freeman who eventually assisted Carlstrom in beginning her small businesses loan application process.

“Citizen Potawatomi Community Development was helpful and explained everything to us. They answered any questions we had and I would highly recommend them,” stated Carlstrom.

SPEL’s office in Lawton was purchased in December 2011 and the firm was certified to test water in April 2012 through the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

SPEL’s customer base is diverse, serving larger towns like Cordell to the general public. Carlstrom, the only employee, also recruits volunteers who help collect samples or answer the phones. Though Carlstrom drives all over Oklahoma to collect samples, she does have an office in Lawton that is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday and on holidays and weekends when necessary. SPEL works with a subcontracting laboratory certified by the ODEQ who tests for inorganic (testing for iron, copper, nitrate), organic (testing for general pesticides, dioxins, carbamates), pesticides, herbicides (usually caused by runoff when there is lots of rain), radio nucleotides (unstable form of a nuclide- from protons and neutrons), nitrates (nitrogen-oxygen chemicals), arsenic (semi-metal element), and cyanide (carbon-nitrogen chemical mixture). SPEL tests for total coliforms (bacteria from sewage contaminate), alkalinity (measures the neutralization of acids), total hardness (has higher amounts of calcium and magnesium in the water), conductivity (waters ability to pass an electrical current), turbidity (water clarity), and Heterotrophic Plate Count (indicates culturable organisms).

“I love helping people and making sure everyone has safe clean water to drink and how to understand the rules and regulations of ODEQ and EPA,” Carlstrom said.

Partially a perk of her job duties that take her across the Sooner State to test water quality, Carlstrom loves to travel and explore her family’s genealogy with her three daughters and three grandchildren.

Citizen Potawatomi Community Development Corporation helped Lou Ann Carlstrom build her business and they can help you. Please contact them at 405-878-4697 or visit their website at for more information about lending for Native American businesses.

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