Residents of Togiak, Illiumna, Port Heiden, among others, came to Dillingham for scientific training. It’s part of the Indian Environmental General Assistance Program or IGAP. The researchers are looking to set a baseline data set of water quality and temperature in the region.
At Nielsen creek a few miles south of Aleknagik Lake, Aisha Upton fiddled with a fickle PH meter. After the meter shut off on her she had to turn it back on and start the test all over again. She hunched over and put the meter back in the water and counted to 20 to get an accurate reading.
“18…19…20,” counted Upton. “7.19. And the water temperature is 5.1.”
Upton flew over from Togiak for this training. This will be her first year as an IGAP coordinator. She sees it as a way to help protect the natural resources of her village and gain experience in field research. She’s also working towards becoming a marine biologist.
“I am hoping with this job I’ll have a lot more time to focus on doing a lot of environmental stuff as well as class,” said Upton.
The EPA requires that all IGAP coordinators attend an annual training, which was headed up this week by Sue Mauger, a Science Director with Cook Inlet Keepers.
“And I think it is good for both the meters and for them to brush off the winter cob webs,” said Mauger. “And get the meters running more smoothly and getting their heads back in the game for collecting samples.”
The IGAP coordinators record water quality, and new this year, they’ll also measure the water temperature.
“So of the work we are doing the water temperature, we are targeting salmon streams because we are trying to see whether we have temperatures that are any stress to salmon,” added Mauger.
Mauger is one of two full-time researchers who works with these community scientists. Dan Bogan is the other. He’s been a part of this annual training for a decade.
“I guess what motives a lot of the people that are here are the threats on the horizon in some of the villages; mining threats, development coming in and potentially changing water quality,” stated Bogan.
Bogan says the work of these environmental coordinators sets up a baseline that researchers like himself can use to see what, if any, changes happen to these water systems in the future. And that data would be hard to come by without them.
“We have 40% of the nation’s surface water in this state and know less than about 1% of it,” said Bogan. “In just about every one of these villages they are the only people out there collecting this information.”
Aisha Upton is quick to figure out the recording equipment. After finishing up the PH test, she records the amount of oxygen in the creek. She says she’s ready to put these new skills to work when she gets home.
“Get everybody informed about how important it is to save our environment and especially preserve it for many years to come, for the next generation,” said Upton.