In 2016, a parasite outbreak on the Yellowstone River killed tens of thousands of fish and cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in lost economic revenues from the resulting temporary river closure…
And while both the parasite (Tetracapsuloides bryosalmonae — a relative of jellyfish, corals, and sea anemones) and the fish-killing disease (Proliferative Kidney Disease, or PKD) are known, questions remain on the environmental conditions that led to the outbreak. Hearing this call for better information, coming not only from the scientists studying PKD but also from the local folks whose lives and livelihoods were affected by the fish kill, YERC responded by launching RiverNET, a community science water monitoring program, in 2018. It’s goal is to improve the resolution of data on both water quality and quantity by increasing the frequency of water sampling and the density of water monitoring sensors, laying the groundwork for a long-term dataset to better analyze environmental changes — including the PKD outbreak but also droughts, changing land use patterns, anything that impacts the health of the river. We also want that information to be accessible and relatable to the local community; to have community members play an active role designing, implementing, and promoting the project; and to have the community effectively “take ownership” of the project, its results, and its long-term sustainability — that’s the community part of community science. Plus, we are designing a program that is scalable and transferable to other watershed in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, so it can benefit communities in other watersheds beyond the Upper Yellowstone.
Our 2018 pilot year was a great success, as we:
Designed and tested a suite of low-cost, fast-turnaround, user-friendly tools and techniques to empower local water monitoring efforts,
Collected nearly 150 water quality samples with the help of local fly fishing guides,
Deployed three sensors that are continuously collecting data and transmitting it real-time via cellular or Bluetooth,
Built positive relationships with individuals and businesses in the community as well as other researchers, conservationists, and resource managers working there,
Worked with local K-12 educators to come up with ways to engage students in RiverNET — our crew even taught a streamside lesson for the Gardiner High School science class, using RiverNET methods to demonstrate the concept of scientific controls.
And if anything, the success and momentum of RiverNET have only increased since that first season, as we have launched an “Adopt-a-River” program to generate sustaining revenues, secured a contract from Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks to lay the ground work for new sensor sites as well as funding for 5 more sensors, and designed a training module for the Guiding for the Future (G4F) fishing guide certification program.
For RiverNET to be a success in the long run, it needs to be fully adopted by the local community, and if you have been reading this far, that means that you are probably part of that community of folks who cares about the health of the Yellowstone River! So please explore the data below, find out how to get involved, and become a part of RiverNET!
But with these data, please be advised that they are provisional and subject to revision, and may be inaccurate due to equipment malfunctions and other issues, so should be used with caution until they are independently reviewed and finally approved. Users are cautioned to use these provisional data carefully before decisions that affect personal or public safety or business operations are made. Contact chief scientist Bob Crabtree at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on the quality control measures and review processes.
Water QUALITY Monitoring
We are monitoring water quality during three seasonal intervals — pre-growing season, growing season, and post-growing season — that have major differences in nutrient concentrations. And we are looking for particular nutrients — orthophosphate, total phosphorus, total nitrogen, and nitrate+nitrite — that have important implications for water quality and are part of a standard suite tested for by other water monitoring programs.
Water QUANTITY Monitoring
Knowing the amount of water that is available, and when, is of critical importance whether you are an irrigator, a whitewater rafting guide, or a cutthroat trout conservationist. Knowing the quantity of water is also essential for correctly interpreting nutrient concentrations and fully understanding the water quality monitoring results. As a result, high resolution water quantity data is in great demand across all Upper Yellowstone River Watershed stakeholder groups.
Local, Sustainable Fundraising through
Our Adopt-a-River program provides another means of getting involved in RiverNET, by pledging to contribute sustaining $500 annual donations that go directly to RiverNET. Adopt-a-River donors are acknowledged by “adopting” a particular stretch of the Yellowstone River that is important to them. And if you are interested in participating, but see that your favorite stretch is already taken, don’t worry! we can always add new stretches as needed! The important thing is that RiverNET has dedicated annual funding, and that donors receive the recognition they deserve.