Citizen Science Initiative on the Yakima River

While directing a watershed science research team (RGIS-CSI Pacific Northwest) at Central Washington University (CWU), Lynker’s Graeme Aggett won a USDA-CSREES grant to develop a citizen science initiative on the Yakima River to gain better understanding of the impacts of agricultural use and master-plan development land use changes on a reach of the Yakima River, a Blue Ribbon trout fishing river in Washington State.

Like many western US waters, the Yakima River has been dammed, dewatered for large-scale agriculture, and deforested. These impacts bring urgency to the need to understand the health of entire river system in order to better protect and rehabilitate them. The best way to gain this understanding is to measure the vital signs of a river through the whole watershed, yet monitoring many miles of river is an overwhelming task, one that cannot often be accomplished by academic scientists or government agencies alone. This project focused on attracting, educating and training citizen scientists in the basin to play a critical role in large-scale data collection to benefit the Yakima River. The key goal was monitoring water quality and quantity, species density, and, over time, climate-change impacts.

Data collected by citizens created windows into the health of the system and was analyzed by our team and others on CWU campus. The main purpose of the program was to inform protection and restoration actions through the collection of quality data that could be used to better understand the river’s condition. The group’s water quality monitoring followed five parameters: dissolved oxygen, pH, water and air temperature, turbidity and conductivity.Volunteers were prepared to collect water quality data with five hours of training and chaperoned site visits. All measurements were made in the field with relatively inexpensive equipment (except turbidity, in which a water sample is returned to the CWU Chemistry Department for measurement).

Volunteers also collected a variety of environmental observations at their site, including the presence of invasive species or unusual changes to the water, such as cloudiness – these observations have proven useful in conducting follow-up investigations and planning restoration projects. This citizen-based program proved valuable for developing partnerships that can perform targeted monitoring and analysis, this helping to improve the suitability of the river for recovering salmon by increasing stream flows downstream of dams, and improving riparian canopy. Data could also be used as evidence for a need to change flow regimes when negotiating hydropower dam relicensing permits.