As the Environmental Modeling Intern for the Henry's Fork Foundation, my time is split between field work and programming in R (a statistical computing language and software environment… think Excel but more powerful and with a lot more user-driven direction). The first half of my summer has primarily consisted of using R to create graphs comparing the current water year to those of the past. When I was first given this task, my R skills were limited and the pressure was on. Before I had even arrived at the office my first day, the Foundation had received several phone calls concerning high discharge from a reservoir in the upper watershed and low streamflow in the lower watershed. Angler success and satisfaction is dependent on streamflow and, needless to say, many were displeased. In order to inform communication efforts with the public, I was asked to generate graphs using historical data to contextualize the current year’s stream flow.
Over the next few weeks, I created graphs that demonstrated how water storage, agricultural diversions, and runoff from snowmelt contribute to the greater story of what’s happening in the Henry’s Fork Watershed. Overall, we learned that runoff this spring was the third driest since the Dust Bowl era, putting the current water year (October 1, 2014-September 30, 2015) on track to be one of the driest on record. Runoff this year also occurred three weeks earlier than usual, creating a three-week shift in water usage. With earlier runoff, farmers planted earlier and thus diverted water ahead of schedule. Usage was typical, but the timing of that usage was not (refer to image). The Foundation communicated this information over the phone, online via blog, and in the quarterly newsletter. It was incredibly rewarding to be an integral part of a project so immediately relevant. If you’d like to learn more, please read the comprehensive report (with graphs by yours truly!).
Overall, I have gained an appreciation for the Henry’s Fork Foundation’s communication efforts. Working in a dynamic system reliant on natural processes can create conflict between water users and it is important to know how and what to communicate. I have not only improved my R skills these past few weeks, but have also learned how to use graphics to communicate effectively and tell a story. Additionally, I have learned more about water rights and the history of the watershed throughout the process – increasing my environmental literacy in a time when drought is more than just a buzzword in the West.
Moving forward, I have extended my commitment with the Foundation until the end of the year. This corner of the world has really stolen my heart and I am excited to continue contributing to the Foundation’s efforts to improve wild trout habitat while also maintaining angler satisfaction. I am grateful for the opportunity to hike more mountains, eat more huckleberries, and, of course, catch more fish on the fly. Follow this link to continue reading posts about my experience at the Henry's Fork Foundation.
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