WSR Winter Collection

I pondered the complications winter would bring to the process of reaching our collection site.

Suiattle River

It came as a bit of a surprise when I received an email from the project manager of the Wild and Scenic Rivers project asking if we’d like to continue collecting samples of the Suiattle River through the winter. I pondered the complications winter would bring to the process of reaching our collection site.

Located deep in the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest, it’s a wild and wooly place not easy to reach at the best of times. Increase the precipitate, deepen the mud, increase the wind, and add a layer of snow and I wasn’t even sure it would be doable. Talking it over with Theresa was just a formality, as she never backs away from a challenge, so I wrote back, “Sure could us in!”.

Collection Kit
Hiking out to the banks of the Suiattle River with the sample bottles and cooler. Once we've collected the river samples they have to be kept cold. They're overnighted to the lab in Fort Collins for analysis.

Recent Flooding

Turns out some of my concerns were well worth the consideration. This northern half of Washington and the lower half of British Columbia have suffered from record floods already this year, and that was before we were even officially in winter. Many communities have been cut off due to this flooding with roads washed away or underwater.

Our first collection was in late October. We were lucky in that the actual day of our WSR winter collection turned out to be glorious with the countryside bathed in a rare sunny winter’s sunshine. The fall leaves looked almost fluorescent and the snow camp peaks surrounding Hwy 20 glowed a deep golden hue.

Another lucky stroke was that the dirt double track leading into the national forest was still relatively firm and the FJ navigated us out to our trailhead with no issues. Add the mild temperatures and we elected to have our lunch on the bluff overlooking the valley that contains our river.

Our volunteers collected water quality data from 128 Wild and Scenic Rivers, enabling federal and state agencies to improve accountability and inform river policy, protection, and management decisions.

Our Timber Tracking volunteers collected samples from 787 locations (and counting!) across the range of eastern black walnut, enabling the US Forest Service and US Fish and Wildlife Service to combat illegal logging.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration incorporated our microplastics data into their global marine microplastics dataset. 

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I pondered the complications winter would bring to the process of reaching our collection site.

Steve Weileman

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WSR Winter Collection

Our second outing wasn’t as serene. This go-around Hwy 20 was a snowy slush mix getting proportionality deeper as we got higher in elevation. Once off the pavement onto the dirt track, it was time to engage the 4×4 and the drive was anything but relaxing.

Our hike was through snow, and the actual collection process of the river water into the sample bottles was an exercise in willpower. The Suiattle River is always cold but having wet hands in cold temperatures with a slight breeze, while standing in the cold water, is challenging.

The real test though was using the probes. Each reading and there are 5 (ph, salinity, total dissolved elements, conductivity, dissolved oxygen) take 3 to 5 minutes with the tip of the probe submerged in the river allowing the readings to stabilize. The whole process takes approximately 2 hours.

But all the discomfort is forgotten once we’re back in the truck sipping from our thermos of hot coffee. No picnics on the bluff this time of year!

Our water samples have been shipped to the lab in Fort Collins Colorado where they’ll be tested. Once we’ve heard back from them, we’ll decide whether another collection outing in January will be needed. I wouldn’t mind one more trip in the depths of winter. Stay tuned.

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