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Out West student blog

Where there is water, there are fish: A summer in Mt. Shasta

Two people, one sitting and one standing, perform a streamflow measurement along Farmers Ditch in the Scott Valley. They stand in a large field with a tree-covered brown hill behind them.

Emily Winn helps a team at Cal Trout do a streamflow measurement along Farmers Ditch in the Scott Valley (Photo by Tyanna Blashchak).

 

Emily Winn (she/her)
Hometown: Denver, CO

Major: Environmental Systems Engineering ‘25
Internship: California Trout

Emily Winn recounts a summer in Mt. Shasta, CA spent working outside and inside on fish, rivers, and the climate with conservation group California Trout

Never heard of fish removal before? Don’t worry—I hadn’t either before I spent a day with California Trout (Cal Trout) on the Scott River dewatering (the removal of water (surface or groundwater) from a site so that excavation and construction can occur) and removing fish from a habitat restoration site. I was excited to pitch into this process but had no idea what to expect as I drove out the site early last week with Cal Trout project manager Serena Doose. I had visited the habitat restoration site a few weeks before, a small tributary of the Scott River where Cal Trout planned to replace a culvert and concrete spillway with a run-of-river bridge. The restoration project aimed to open up the cold water of the tributary to juvenile Coho salmon, a fish native to Northern California and threatened by agriculture, dam infrastructure, and rising temperatures.

I understood the importance of the project, but last time we had been at the site I hadn’t seen too much water in the tributary, let alone fish. Then Serena said something that instantly piqued my interest— “Wherever there is water, there is fish.” That is what makes fish removal and dewatering essential for habitat restoration in rivers, she further explained— they allow essential construction work to occur without impacting vulnerable species. 

With the help of Serena and the fish removal team from CDFW (California Department of Fish & Wildlife) by the end of the day I helped e-fish, identified and counted the fish in the site (over 100 juvenile rainbow trout, and excitingly, a few Coho salmon!), and transported them to upstream habitat. The day flew by and it was incredible to take part in such important work. Holding the fish that Cal Trout seeks to protect in my hand made me proud to work for an organization with such an important mission.

Fish removal is just one of the exciting things I have been able to do this summer. Other field visits included helping a team measure water flow at Farmer’s Ditch in the Scott Valley and taking water samples for isotopic analysis with researchers from Cal State East Bay and Lawrence Livermore Laboratory at Rising River Lake. My time in the office has been spent working on a new Cal Trout project focused on the spring waters in the Upper Sacramento, McCloud, and Pit River watersheds. I have gathered and compiled important climate and hydrologic data from California Data Exchange Center (CDEC), the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the U.S. Geological Service (USGS), and the National Weather Service (NWS) using Python, R, and Excel for researchers and the Cal Trout team to use in the future. One of the most fulfilling parts of this summer has been applying the knowledge I learned in my Stanford classes. CS 106A and 106B, DATASCI 154, and the Bill Lane Center’s flagship American West course have all provided important skills and information that have shaped my work this summer.

When I look forward to my last few weeks at Cal Trout, I can’t believe that the summer has passed so quickly. Outside of my days at the office, I have spent time exploring the surrounding area. I am an avid runner, hiker, and biker, which makes Mt. Shasta a total paradise. I have also been lucky to be visited by close family and friends, which has made my stay here feel particularly special. Other weekends I have left Shasta and visited Oregon and the Bay Area, which have reminded me of the stunning environmental diversity of the American West. Oftentimes at Stanford we forget that the Bay Area is the gateway to one of the most dynamic, important, and threatened areas of the United States. I hope to return to Palo Alto this fall reminded of the importance of protecting this diverse region as it is threatened by climate change, wildfires, and extreme weather events in coming decades. 

Despite these threats to the people and species that inhabit Shasta and places like it, I am heartened knowing that there are organizations like California Trout who work to maintain these lands for future generations of fish and people. Getting on the ground and seeing the people who lead vital environmental projects in action has been the most valuable experience of my summer and reminded me of why I became interested in sustainability and conservation when I arrived at Stanford as a freshman in the fall of 2021. No matter where I work or what I do in the long term, I plan to take the lessons and inspiration of California Trout with me. 

I want to thank my supervisor, project manager Tyanna Blaschak, regional director Damon Goodman, and the many other project managers and Cal Trout employees who have gone out of their way to be kind, answer questions, and help maximize my time here in Mt. Shasta. In addition, I am grateful to the Bill Lane Center for organizing this internship with California Trout and to the Stanford faculty who have encouraged my interest in water and the West. 

Any Stanford student reading this interested in the mission of California Trout and the BLC or looking forward to a summer spent in one of the most beautiful places in the country should apply, apply, apply!

If you’re interested in learning more about Coho salmon (like I was after spending that day on the Scott), I recommend this site from NOAA. 

Check out the other amazing projects Cal Trout works on around the state of California by exploring their website.

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