Wading Through Summer

Saturday, August 17, 2019 - 9:01pm


Ilinca Popescu

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 compared to the rest of 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 to figure out where to go next. 

Part of my job this summer has been helping 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.

HFF 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 for policymakers, agencies, and conservation groups to make better decisions towards management and conservation efforts.

I have largely been collecting homeowner data from county maps in Excel spreadsheets, including property values and taxes, which I run through R, a statistical software. It’s been an interesting project because there is not a lot of research of second home tourism influencing recreational quality. It's been a big learning curve while scavenging for articles and navigating my way through R, but I've enjoyed the challenge of delving into new skills. The foundation will continue to use the data I have collected along with their economic value study that includes spending patterns, the value of water bodies, and observed recreation use.



The past couple of weeks have been especially adventurous outside of work. We finally summitted Mt. Borah and despite the warning of the intensity, it was one of the most difficult hikes (climbs, let’s face it) I have ever done. Holding onto a piece of limestone and looking past my feet beyond the edge where my foot was not allowed to go was nothing short of terrifying, but I’m glad I had the courage to reach the summit.   

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 every time I have to look around me. 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 most fun summers I have ever experienced.