Bear, Fish, Wood, and Rivers – A Watershed Academy Internship

By Colin Joy George

Hello, My name is Colin Joy George, I am 16 years old and live in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I am a 12th grade student at Santa Fe High School. I am passionate about protecting the environment as I grew up with a mindset that when we take good care of the earth, the earth will take good care of us. This internship with River Source enabled me to see different methods by which I can nurture and revive the natural environment.

Prior to this internship, I set up small, sustainable landscapes, which simply needed light, irrigation and manure. My time at Riversource taught me many methods to increase vegetation cover, to revive the ground water table, and to restore a river’s sinuosity. And we did all of that while following all the state mandated safety protocols of the current Covid-19 era. It has been educational and safe as well as fun! This opportunity has helped me find some new friends and interact with others face-to-face despite the pandemic.

Introduction to the Internship

We received an introduction into the type of work we would be doing with Riversource. We walked through the Arroyo De Las Cruces upstream to understand the flaws of the arroyo and also to observe previously made structures to help with erosion. We understood that the effects of our work can last for generations: providing fertile soil, preventing environmental deterioration and supporting environmental functions. Next we took measurements of longitudinal and cross sectional depths, using a laser level. It was incredible to precisely find the erosion grade as well as the depth of a channel over time.

A Day at the Pecos River 

At the Pecos River, we learned about how the drought in New Mexico has affected the flow of rivers as well as their chemistry. We learned to calculate the streamflow by using physics concepts such as cross sectional area and variables such as time, distance and volume. We measured the dissolved oxygen level, ph level, temperature and many other chemical factors that affect the health of the water. As a fun activity after all of the hard work, I attempted fly fishing for the first time. I didn’t catch anything, but I was excited to see one of my colleagues catch a fish!

Aaron Kauffman and Water Harvesting 

We had a wonderful day with Aaron Kauffman learning about harvesting water from modern structures such as parking lots or roofs and developing structures to let that water sink into the ground. This helps to elevate the groundwater table and provide more water to the local ecosystem. He taught us that the amount of rainwater which falls onto impervious surfaces in places like New York City can generate millions of gallons of water every year. He also showed us different structures which can harvest this stormwater runoff and the pros and cons of each structure in different conditions. He even took us to three different sites that he helped build and shared their flaws and functionalities.

Bunny Ranch 

At Bunny Ranch, just Northwest of Santa Fe, we learned that the land is prone to extreme erosion. Yet since Mr. Toner started working tirelessly to restore this land, some of the most severe effects of erosion have been mitigated. We helped him fill the incised gullies with brush, wood and rocks to form a sediment catchment along the base of each channel. This works by slowing the water down to reduce its kinetic energy which in turn will deposit sediment and reduce erosion.

Herrera Research Center 

We joined Carlos for the opening day of the Herrera Research center at the Herrera Family property. At Bunny Ranch we saw the degradational effects of years of neglect along with drought. We started by clearing the trees of low lying branches as well as dried ones as they pose a fire threat to the property. We filled the channels on the land with the brush we collected. We also built swales so as to stop erosion and to slow down the water flowing through the land. Hydraulically this induces sheet flow and will irrigate the trees and help revive the fertility of the soil.

A Day At El Rito 

We met with the District Ranger at El Rito and learned of the deterioration of the forests caused by poor camping practices. We also got a chance to conduct a riparian survey along the banks of the El Rito river. And met the Department of Game and Fish biologists who were conducting a fish survey.  Using an electric fish shocker, the biologists caught and released all of the fish in that part of the river. This was pretty neat because we got to see all of the different types of fish living in the El Rito River!