In 2011, the CSU’s Water Resources and Policy Initiatives (WRPI) launched a four-year internship program intended to harness the research capacity of CSU faculty and students in order to address the critical water issues facing California.
The USDA-funded Watershed Management Internships are already giving CSU students valuable hands-on experience. The interns delve into various aspects of natural resource protection carried out by three USDA agencies: the Natural Resource Conservation Service, the Agricultural Research Service and the Forest Service.
The first year saw a variety of projects on a wide range of topics, incorporating many aspects of environmental issues in California. Below are just a few examples of the work these students and faculty are doing:
CSU San Bernardino, Aerial Photography Project:
Digitizing photos sounds more “archivist” than “scientist.” However, this project’s goal—to digitize a collection of over 4,500 aerial photos of the San Bernardino and Santa Ana watersheds—will provide many benefits for research.
“The documents will be more accessible to people who need them for research and knowledge. City planners, lawmakers, developers, and historians are already tapping into the library of photos,” said project leader Suzie Earp, who works at CSUSB’s Water Resources Institute.
One of the interns, Carlos Almaguer, is majoring in computer science and engineering. Continuing on in the second year of the project, Almaguer is now creating a way to organize the photographs more efficiently and making an interactive map.
“It’s a great way to see the effects commercialization and population growth have on our water sources,” Almaguer said. “It makes it easier to comprehend the immense human impact on our environment over several decades.”
CSU Bakersfield, Water Forecasts Based on Tulare Lake Level Constructions:
The Geological Sciences department at CSU Bakersfield was awarded a $5M National Science Foundation grant last year. The CSU WRI/USDA internships provide the perfect synergy with one of the NSF projects, which is aimed at forecasting water supplies based on lake levels, said CSUB Geophysics professor Robert Negrini.
Negrini said that the project’s ultimate goal is to record the 10,000 year history of water supply into the Central Valley of California by measuring Tulare lake levels. As one of the world’s most important agricultural centers, the Central Valley will benefit from the information, which can be utilized to create forecasts for future water supplies.
As far as the internships go, Negrini says the most exciting aspect is that CSUB undergraduates—ones that would not likely have thought to go to graduate school—are now doing much of the research.
“They’re able to afford to do so thanks to the internships and corresponding NSF fellowships, said Negrini. “They’re really catching the research ‘bug’ and most will likely now go on to graduate school and/or employment at the USDA and related industry.”
CSU Stanislaus, Geospatial Analysis in the Tuolumne Watershed:
The first cohort of student interns at CSU Stanislaus used geographic information systems (GIS) software to create elevation, slope and aspect maps of the Merced, Stanislaus and Tuolumne River watersheds.
Advised by CSU Stanislaus geography professors Peggy Hauselt and Austin Avwunudiogba, the team collected soil samples during field visits to the local Tuolumne River watershed, where tributaries created by snowmelt runoff from the High Sierra join to form the river.
Back in the lab, the students combined their findings with data from state governmental agencies and configured it all into a standard format for easier use.
“I was able to conduct field work, use geospatial technology and learn about various National Forest projects,” said intern and geography major Aldo Garcia. “It was exciting, because the maps they use looked similar to various projects I have done at CSU Stanislaus. I consider this internship with the USDA as my gateway to the National Forest.”