I entered 35 W Main with the goal of acquiring some of the “real-world experience” that employers and graduate school admissions offices are always asking for. Though many undergraduate interns make copies and get coffee, at the Riverkeeper I worked on projects alongside Jerry and Jule that allowed me to engage with the Spokane River firsthand.
Our first order of business was creating the new Riverkeeper website. Hours spent discussing, writing, editing and re-editing the content gave me a real window into how much care Jule and Jerry put into the mission of the Riverkeeper and sharing it with the people of Spokane. The Spokane River characterizes Spokane in a variety of ways. The river is the reason why we are here. Native Americans were attracted to the site because salmon once populated the river. Though the salmon are gone today, later settlers of the area harnessed the power of the river for industry and electricity. The river is also a source of pride and leisure. Centennial Trail, Riverside State Park, and other access points along the river allow us to engage with the river. As the snow melted this year and the river’s flow increased, I was amazed by the number of people out simply watching the river rush by and drop into the falls. The river brought us together and remains the centerpiece of Spokane.
My favorite part of this internship has definitely been our water-quality testing days. Every few weeks, Jule and I drove to different sampling sites along Hangman Creek. Along the way, Jule would show me different examples of environmental degradation and we would discuss the causes and potential solutions. At each sampling site we measured for temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrogen, pH, and turbidity. Once we returned to the office we recorded the data points, plotted graphs for the different factors, and analyzed them for observable patterns. In conjuction with our water-quality sampling, Jule and I created the annual “Water-Quality Report Card,” which synthesized the water testing the Riverkeeper has done in the last year. As we put the document together, I was alarmed by the number of pollutants and the level at which they existed in the river. I knew Hangman Creek and the Spokane River were polluted but I never would have guessed that the pollution was so severe.
I’m so happy that I have had the opportunity to intern at the Spokane Riverkeeper this semester. It was a wonderful experience in both the science and the community engagement sides of water-quality issues. I am confident that I gained not only real-world experience at a wonderful organization but a deeper appreciation for the Spokane River and our duty to protect it.