Water Quality Program Update

by Kelsey Taylor Payne, Snoqualmie Tribe Water Quality Manager

 

Gravel crunches under my feet as I make my way to the ENR building on a cloudless spring day. After I drop my gear and bags in my office, I head to the kitchen and see two bright faces greeting me at the back sliding door. I welcome my Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) members inside, and get to work setting out the equipment we will need for the day. I can tell they are excited to be out in the field for water quality work today, and I am too. I started work as the water quality manager during the COVID-19 pandemic and don’t get many opportunities to work with other people in person. But before we get to the field, we need to start with the basics, which means calibrating the sonde that we will use to measure water quality parameters. I show them how to set up the equipment, attach the probes, and show them the solutions and tools we will use to test the probes.

 

Calibration equipment and setup at the ENR kitchen. We often start the day in the field with a calibration test for all of our probes.

 

This story takes place over three months and with six different crew members. Emily and Jenna, Antonio and Josh, and Annika and Carly came out in pairs between March and May of 2021 to help take water quality data. The Washington Conservation Corps is an AmeriCorps training program run through the Department of Ecology to prepare the future environmental leaders of Washington for the workforce. An important part of the program is interacting with partners and sponsors, and getting opportunities to try new aspects of environmental work while adding to their resumes. I wanted to make sure that each member had the opportunity to try out the water quality program and see how it fits in with the Snoqualmie Tribe’s Environmental and Natural Resource Department mission.

 

WCC crew member, Antonio, holding one of our temperature data loggers.

 

The 106 program comes from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who funds Snoqualmie Tribe’s efforts towards the prevention, reduction, and elimination of water pollution. EPA has been funding the program since it was started in the spring of 2008. The impetus for starting the water quality program, however, comes straight from Tribal Council Act 6-1, which was signed into effect in March of 2008 and was intended to “protect the environmental integrity of the surface water resources found on or within Snoqualmie Tribal lands.” The program is now thirteen years old and going strong as we continue to collect water quality data at the streams that flow through the Reservation.

 

With the probes checked, the solutions rinsed, and the battery charged we hop into our cars and head out to the first site. Before we hit the first round-about leading to the Snoqualmie Casino parking lot, we pull our cars over into a pullout and head down the steep hillside towards the first stream. Flagging marks the spot where we will dip the sonde, and from there patience is required as we wait for the probes to adjust to the cool water. In the meantime, I show the WCC members how to use the applications to connect to the sonde, connect to the datalogger hidden in the water, and to collect the data we will take today.

 

WCC crew members, Jenna and Emily, collecting water quality data at the first water quality site (3/25/21).

 

WCC crew members, Josh and Antonio, collecting water quality data at our eighth collection site (4/21/21).

 

“One down, ten to go!” I holler as we head back up the hill. As we move on to the other water quality sites on the Reservation, the WCC members are figuring out the equipment and the applications and don’t need me to look over their shoulders for every detail. My mind starts to drift, and as a look around I take in all of the hidden beauty of the Snoqualmie Reservation. We crawl back into the forested areas nestled around the edges of the parking lots and I see our native plants blooming and growing. I call them by name and see if the WCC members have heard of them. Some of them grew up nearby and know the flora and fauna of the PNW as well as I do, but others come from around the country and don’t yet know what berries they can eat or what they are called. I listen to the songbirds call and see if I can glimpse a wing or a head so I can find out who the songs belong to. There is a lot of life on the reservation, a lot of animals that call the reservation home.

 

WCC crew members, Carly and Annika, taking water quality data measurements at the stormwater pond in the lower parking lot of the Snoqualmie Casino (5/26/2021).

 

As we make our short drive back to the ENR office, I say goodbye to the WCC members. They are already headed back to their restoration work for the day, while I am planning to plant myself in my swivel chair and get to work pulling together all of the data collected from three applications into our folders and spreadsheets. It’s been a great day, and I’m looking forward to the next time I can get back to the little tributaries that run through the reservation, out to Kimball Creek, to join with the Snoqualmie River. It makes me feel like I’m a part, although maybe a small part, of this beautiful watershed.