The air around my head and torso is 100 sweltering degrees, but the stream splashing against my legs is cool and clear. I dunk the sleek, new probe into the water. While it gathers data, I watch a school of minnows flit past and a dragonfly land on the reed grass beside me. The probe is picking up turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, and temperature data. When it’s finished, I splash over to a fallen log near the bank. Beneath the log I find a second type of temperature data-logger and off-load all the data it has been continuously collecting. Lastly, I scoop a little bit of water into a clear, glass vile and jot down my GPS coordinates. Then I scurry up the steep bank and toss all my gear into the pick-up. We still have 14 stops to go and the sun hasn’t hit its peak in the sky yet.
This summer I am interning for an environmental non-profit in Walla Walla called Kooskooskie Commons, where I help with a stream restoration project that has been going on for several years. My job is to monitor the streams and analyze the data I collect to ensure that the restoration efforts are working. Half the time I am outside collecting data in the streams, photographing invasive plant species, and checking on the progress of stream restoration projects. The other half of the time, I am inside analyzing data on excel and GIS or shadowing meetings with the Walla Walla Watershed Council and with local farmers.
I’ve learned a lot from my internship, such as how to operate all the data-collecting gadgets and how to find my way to all the streams. I’ve also learned that when your boss hands you a machete and vaguely points at a thicket of briars saying “the stream’s just over there,” you should get on your knees and beg for 100% deet and the world’s thickest pants. And finally, at the risk of sounding incredibly cheesy, the most important thing I’ve learned is the value of working together and communicating. At the Walla Walla Watershed Council meetings there are all sorts of representatives. There are lawyers, biologists, conservationists, members of the Umatilla Tribes, farmers, writers, legislators, passionate citizens, and interns. Naturally this means decision-making can take a long time, but it also means that the final decision is one that everyone is on board with. Even though a lot of what I do is solo work, I constantly feel a part of a larger team working together to improve the health of the watershed one little stream at a time.
Experiences like Alyssa’ s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff.