WIG Intern Frankie Gerraty ‘19 “Learns by Doing” with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR)

CTUIR Aquatic Propagation Lab Action Log
11/14/18         12:00 – 4:30    Duties Performed:

Aquaculture Systems Disaster—well water input PVC piping broken, input flow disabled for all systems, emergency PVC cutting and repair, water level monitoring and refilling for all systems, continue to monitor all water levels and well water leakage.

My workday in the lab began as usual. I am a few months into my internship with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation (CTUIR), where I work as a lab technician and research assistant in the Aquatic Propagation Lab.  My current focus has been designing and building an aquaculture system that will allow for us to raise millions of microscopic freshwater mussel larvae in the springtime. After sketching plans and sourcing materials for several weeks, the construction has officially begun. I am currently on track to finish the project in the next two weeks, and we will begin with the mussel propagation research project starting in January.

A photo of me, my handy PVC Saw, and a tank with lamprey and sturgeon. The small white circle towards the bottom of the tank is a lamprey’s teeth!

The first step in the construction process involved moving an (empty) 100-gallon fish tank through a complex web of PVC piping to make space for the additional components that I am adding to the aquaculture system. My preliminary “lift test” revealed that the large tank was lighter than I had anticipated, and the unexpected ease with which I was able to lift the tank led me to attempt a complex tank-moving maneuver on my own. Halfway through the strained process of side-to-side wiggling, I heard a loud crack. Instantly, my shoes soaked through with icy water.

I had ruptured a PVC pipe that channeled water up from a well and into the lab. This important water source is used constantly to stabilize the water levels in each of the five aquaculture systems that we currently operate. With the system-sustaining well water suddenly gushing across the lab-floor, I immediately knew that the cracked pipe was a major problem.

“Alexa, can I have some help? I have a bit of a leakage emergency in the lab?”

My internship supervisor, Alexa, and I paced into the lab together. She had been preparing to leave, and she frantically gave me an impromptu 5-minute PVC gluing lesson.

“You can figure it out! Remember to watch the water levels.” With these encouraging remarks, she departed to attend a meeting that she couldn’t miss.

Laying out one section of my PVC plumbing project before gluing the pieces together.

I was alone in the lab. Gallons of water continued to stream out of the cracked pipe every second. Soon, the floor became submerged with several inches of water and a growing puddle had expanded to fill the room. I splashed my way to the source of the leak and began to work; I was committed to fixing the mess I had made. I sawed and glued away at the PVC piping for several hours while periodic alarms rang through the lab, reminding me to refill the systems with sink water.

After two hours of repair, I had executed a relatively simple fix. I used a saw to remove the broken pipe, replacing it with a coupler and some spare PVC pieces that I scavenged from around the lab. After gluing all the pieces into place, I sat down on the last dry patch of cold, cement floor. Exhausted and soaking wet, I was thrilled about the success of my repair. Afterwards, the longstanding mantra “learn by doing” helped me to explain the traumatic and rewarding experience to Alexa and others. Throughout the repair and the bigger construction projects I have taken on, I have learned by (in the words of Alexa) “figuring it out.” At the start of my internship, I never would have expected that I would soon be able to build elaborate aquaculture systems on my own. My first steps in the learning process? Plunging eagerly into the icy, ankle-deep puddle of the unknown.

As I move into the most involved construction days taking place during the next two weeks, I am glad to have already practiced my PVC repair skills in a high stress situation. Hopefully everything will go smoothly. If not, I will probably learn even more!

Internship Details: Frankie Gerraty, Environmental Studies – Biology, Class of 2019
Organization Name: Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Location: Aquatic Propagation Lab, Walla Walla Community College

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