The Power of Collaboration: Unifying the Streams of Science

March 2, 2022
Adam Stratman doing field work.

Living in the Colorado River Basin lends itself to witnessing how climate change increases stress on our water resources and negatively impacts our environment. Issues related to climate change are often described as complex, layered, and evolving, and their solutions are no less complicated. This is true of my own master’s research at the University of Arizona where I am using water chemistry and age dating techniques to help better understand the hydrology of an endangered desert wetland (ciénega) in southeastern Arizona. The ciénega is biologically diverse and provides critical habitat to several species protected under the Endangered Species Act. It also helps improve the water quality of water moving through the watershed which eventually flows into the San Pedro River, one of the last undammed rivers in the Southwest. 

Unfortunately, this rare riparian habitat is experiencing the negative effects of climate change and human impact in the form of plant encroachment, land degradation, and groundwater decline. As a result, the ultimate goal of my research is to better inform land management practices regarding strategies to preserve the health of the ciénega based on the source and age of water supporting it.

Picture of a field with a mostly clear blue sky and green foliage.

Based on my interest in endangered waters and my desire to develop effective communication between scientists and stakeholders, I applied to the 2021-2022 SW CASC Natural Resources Workforce Development Fellowship, where the theme for the year focuses on endangered streams and developing relationships with stakeholders. The Fellowship’s emphasis on interdisciplinary teamwork and the importance of community-minded, actionable science inspires me to approach the issues facing southwestern ciénegas in a more strategic and thoughtful way. 

Before my participation in the Fellowship, I had never collaborated on interdisciplinary research in this way before. Acceptance into the Fellowship left me ecstatic, particularly because my first year of graduate school was almost entirely remote due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Traveling to Utah in September for this year’s kickoff training was truly exciting, and meeting the diverse group of individuals who I would be working with was invigorating. Participating in the workshop which facilitated interdisciplinary and team science proved to be very useful and helped lay a good foundation for our team to successfully work together through the course of the project. Understanding the tools and processes that help establish communication, trust, and conflict resolution was essential to the functioning of our team.

It is now approximately five months since our initial meeting in Logan, Utah, and we have been holding regular biweekly meetings over Zoom to work on our project. The process of brainstorming ideas and expanding on the steps necessary for success has been a valuable learning experience for me. Currently, we are leaning toward a focus on process-based restoration practices, such as beaver dam analogues (BDA’s), for endangered streams with a potential case study centered in southern Idaho. The work entails a literature review across the latitude of the potential study site to investigate restoration practices like BDA’s and their success. Additionally, we will investigate which policies are in place that dictate water use for restoration practices in this area, and are also interested in developing policy suggestions to help with restoration practices like those in our case study. 

The work is far from finished and, in some ways, it feels like it is just gaining momentum. I am grateful for this opportunity to grow with my peers and work on a project that brings our varied abilities to the table. This process has at times been uncomfortable, as it has pushed us to find ways that we can all contribute, even when it does not necessarily align with the research techniques that we are accustomed to. However, it allows us each to grow and contribute in ways that help develop our communication, analytical, and critical thinking skills. 

I look forward to the next application round and cannot wait to recommend this fellowship to others, as it continues to be a fulfilling endeavor. I am thrilled with the progress my team has made and am so excited to see where we are in seven months. 

Thank you SW CASC for this opportunity!