A day on the Tuolumne River with a few of my AP EnviroSci students, Dr. Matt Cover & Joe Zermeno from Modesto JC.
Dr. Matt Cover from CSU Stanislaus and Joe Zermeno from Modesto JC graciously volunteered their time on Saturday to show a few of my EnviroSci students the wondrous world of invertebrates living in our Tuolumne River. We started the day getting a lay of the land by walking along the river terrace trail at Waterford River Park. After a brief half-mile stroll, we worked our way down to our gravel bar base where the sciencing would be done.
Then Dr. Cover introduced us to the hydrology of the region and helped us piece together a few of the food chains and food webs he's been studying on the river for six years.
After great explanations of how collect and identify the invertebrates from the river it was time to get in the brisk water!. Students spent several minutes searching for cobbles to survey in the glides and riffles of the river that flowed through Waterford. Once the cobbles were selected, water depth, flow characteristics and temperature data was recorded before the students headed back to shore to identify seven different invertebrate species and the communities that they formed.
The science was amazing, but the day's biggest impact came from connecting students with the life-blood of our region. The majority of the Central Valley population is river-illiterate and haven't a clue where the water we use comes from, nor have they ever experienced the tremendous riparian corridors that exist a few miles from their homes. Connecting the students to their watershed is always a transformation experience and one that will make them stakeholders in the river's use in the decades to come.
The biggest surprise of the day was seeing two large chinook salmon swim past us. The previous three years of salmon returns on the Tuolumne River have been abysmal and this year doesn't look much better. Perhaps the efforts of Dr. Cover and the Tuolumne River Trust will one day help the river be restored to a more natural state while still accommodating a majority of the agriculture in the area. Only time will tell. I was able to fish the river as a child and it it my hope that my son may one day do the same!
Ryan J Hollister - Geoscience & EnviroSci Educator, Avid hiker, Landscape photographer, WildLink Club Advisor, Central Valley Advocate.