Parting Words from our Summer Interns

While COVID-19 changed many things this summer, NepRWA was still able to host two wonderful college summer interns, Dayna Ullathorne and Claire Babbott-Bryan. Here, in their words, is how they spent their summer with NepRWA…

by Dayna Ullathorne

Why does the ecological health of our watershed matter? Watersheds are biodiverse habitats that support a wide array of plant and animal species. The conditions of these ecosystems that allow for species survival can change rapidly. Furthermore, the Neponset is used as a source of drinking water and recreation for many communities inside the watershed.

To mitigate ecosystem degradation and to maintain safe usage of the waterways, the Neponset River Watershed (NepRWA) utilizes data collected from sampling to better understand what issues need to be addressed. NepRWA then uses this data to advocate for policy change, work to restore habitat, and focus on areas than need to be cleaned up.

My main focus as a summer intern was a project on analyzing the water temperature of some of the brooks in the watershed. Furthermore, I also aided in data collection and helped with the community and volunteer projects.

While at NepRWA I learned some water-quality analyses that I added to my skill set. I worked with reading and calibrating dissolved oxygen meters, pH reading, and how to properly collect water samples. When I was preparing for my internship, I was not sure how my work with Neponset would look. COVID-19 had kept me inside and on my laptop instead of out on the river.

During May and June, I was working remotely analyzing temperature data, and attending meetings via Zoom. My first day in the office involved going through the COVID-19 safety guidelines including how to properly distance ourselves and clean common surface areas. As the summer continued, I was able to get involved with carefully planned in-person events. The Citizen Water Monitoring Network “CWMN” was able to run this summer. Furthermore, I was able to get out into the field for activities with the other summer intern Claire.

We deployed a few temperature loggers into Ponkapoag Brook and collected logged data from Traphole Brook. We also scouted areas for the Fall clean-up both on foot and via Canoe. Lastly, we troubleshot two projects – a test run for volunteers to label storm drains in their neighborhoods and an eDNA data collection.

While COVID-19 presented a couple of challenges, this summer internship exceeded expectations. I loved being able to get outside and explore the watershed. Having access to the internet made my communication with everyone at NPRWA accessible. I was reminded at the end of my internship that even though I had only met a handful of the staff in person I felt I got to know everyone well! Now at the end of my summer with NepRWA, I am thankful for the opportunity to get involved with the community and to learn more about how grassroot organizations work.

by Claire Babbott-Bryan

I’ve spent this summer interning with the Neponset River Watershed Association (NepRWA), a grassroots conservation nonprofit based in South Boston whose goal is a clean and accessible river and watershed.

With less than 10 employees total, each staff member is fully in charge of a division of work (Kerry works with local policy-makers, Patrick is the water resource professional, Nancy is the outreach director, etc). Having one person for each role has given me a lens into the infrastructure of an environmental nonprofit. It also allows for a surprising amount of efficiency, because each specialist can have full control over their sector.

Personally, I have been working predominantly with my co-intern, Dayna, and the head environmental scientist, Chris. Despite being remote, Chris has helped Dayna and I gain experience in environmental monitoring programs, including habitat restoration, green infrastructure, and research projects. Some of the tasks we have tackled together include scouting cleanup sites for volunteer events, teaching local students how to test pH, organizing for our monthly Citizen Water Monitoring Network (CWMN), collecting eDNA samples of a stream to test for the presence/absence of species, and more.

One undertaking that has been both educative and gratifying has been the Embrace-A-Stream Project. Before starting my summer internship with NepRWA, I had never given trout much thought. Trout seemed inconsequential, yet all the while were name-dropped on a mysteriously frequent basis. But who –other than the niche fish-loving crowd– really knows anything about their species or how they contribute to our surrounding ecosystems?

This spring, NepRWA and Greater Boston Trout Unlimited launched Embrace-A-Stream Project, a new study that set out to understand the health of the Neponset River’s cold water streams and save the rare urban brook trout species. Because they require pristine, stable habitats with excellent water quality, brook trout are distinguished as crucial indicators of the biological integrity of streams. Since brook trout living in the Neponset River and its tributaries are adapted to cold water streams, they often cannot survive when the water gets too hot. Specifically, the habitability threshold for brook trout (and many other species) is 68°F.

A large part of this project involved volunteers installing temperature loggers (small devices that record the water temperature every 15 minutes) at over 30 locations throughout eight of the watershed’s brooks. These data allow us to assess the temperature fluctuations at every site and give us a broader understanding of the upstream, midstream, and downstream health of each brook. After identifying the unhealthy sections, we can take focused measures to bring the temperature down and re-establish river health in that portion. Some actions that can be taken to restore colder water temperatures are dam removal, habitat restoration along the streambed, increasing canopy coverage (planting trees that will block the sun), and preventing nearby urban development.

Through this initiative, we synthesized and analyzed the temperature data to allow for a deeper understanding of the stream health. Unfortunately, almost every brook recorded high temperatures, some reaching almost 90oF. Although disappointing, this knowledge will allow for NepRWA to take concrete and targeted actions to reinvigorate the health of the streams, the ecosystems in surrounding communities, and the watershed as a whole. Additionally, we published our study on the NepRWA website and have been using our findings to encourage community education and environmental stewardship.

Who would have thought that trout survival could be such a significant focus? I sure didn’t. But in addition to the tangible implications of this brook trout project, I have learned to challenge my impulsive assumptions that certain species –or entities– are insignificant. My summer internship with NepRWA has taught me to become more intentional about developing a holistic sense of compassion, and acknowledging that every person, animal, and part of our earth has value.

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