Out West student blog

Wading Through Summer


Ilinca in the field completing routine water quality data collection. (photo credit: Ilinca Popescu).

By Ilinca Popescu '22
Hometown: Columbia, Missouri
Major: Earth Systems
Aquatics Resources Conservation Intern, Henry's Fork Foundation

To reach the next sonde unit past the bridge, I need to pull on my waders and boots. Since the river has just passed its peak flow of the season, going upstream has been more difficult than it was earlier in the summer. Going slow is key, especially when there are plenty of rocks covered in slippery moss taunting me to fall in with my gear in tow. I let myself stop for a couple of seconds, and as I wait for the sediment to settle, I can see all the way down to my feet as I figure out which step to take next.

Part of my job this summer has been helping to calibrate and install hardware that connects to our water quality sensors, or sondes, so we can transmit and see the data in real time. From untangling wires to pulling cords through irrigation tubes to drilling through rock, we have finally installed the transmission equipment to automate the sonde on Ashton Dam. We plan to automate another one upriver before a bridge construction site so we can monitor the differences in nutrient and turbidity levels, ensuring that stretch of the river remains healthy.

The Henry’s Fork Foundation, the organization I’ve worked with this past summer, takes on many projects that cover both the natural and social sciences. On days I’m not wading through water, my main focus is conducting a statistical analysis on the economic impact of second home ownership on the value of river recreation in the watershed. With the area being world-renowned for its fishing and natural beauty, the foundation is interested in quantifying recreational use and its economic value. With this information, policymakers, agencies, and conservation groups will be able to make better, more informed decisions towards management and conservation of the area.

My quantitative work has largely consisted of taking homeowner data, like property values and taxes, from county maps and running it through R, a statisical analysis software. It’s been an interesting project because there is not a lot of research on second home tourism's influence on recreational quality. The learning curve of scavenging for articles to study and navigating my way through R has been steep at times, but I've enjoyed the challenge of delving into new skills. The data I have collected will fit in with a larger economic value study the Foundation has funded to better understand spending patterns, the value of water bodies, and observed recreational use.

Maps of Teton County and Fremont County. Ilinca uses data from these maps to study homeownership and recreation in the Henry's Fork area.

Trudging through the currents and lines of code is hard work, but I can’t forget how blessed I am to be in such a beautiful part of the West. Sometimes long days really get the best of me, but I remind myself that since high school it has been a dream of mine to do environmental research with conservation groups— through grit and grin, I trust myself that I can get the job done and step forward. Getting outside for work has made me a stronger and happier person, and even though I am on the job, this has been one of the funnest summers I have ever experienced.

Another beautiful day on the river. Ilinca putting a sonde back in its housing near Ashton Dam. (photo credit: Ilinca Popescu)
Another beautiful day on the river. Ilinca putting a sonde back in its housing near Ashton Dam. (photo credit: Ilinca Popescu)

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