In Spring 2017, I was an intern for the San Marcos River Foundation (SMRF), a non-profit here in San Marcos with the mission to protect and preserve the beauty, flow, and purity of our local river—and, indirectly, the Edwards Aquafer that is its source. The San Marcos River is a beautiful body of water that is important to the local citizens who enjoy river recreational activities and has become essential to the culture of San Marcos, Texas. However, it is also a sensitive ecosystem with endemic and endangered species that need protection. This river, along with the Blanco River, is the cause for local flooding issues, and it needs protection from the many people who enjoy its year round 72-degree temperature.
Working for the dedicated group of people who are apart of SMRF has made me see the importance of river related issues, not only here in San Marcos, Texas, but all around our country as well. My first project was making a power point for the annual member meeting. I also helped with local gardening work at the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment, helped with river clean ups, attended weekly city government meetings, tested the water quality of the river, attended grant writing workshops, volunteered at the San Marcos Aquatic Resource Center (SMARC), and participated in public outreach and education and fundraising.
SMRF pursues several specific objectives. The Foundation was founded in 1985, when local citizens, riverside land owners, and civic groups realized the need for representation of the San Marcos River, which flows through areas where jurisdiction is not always clear (Link). Since its inception, SMRF has advocated for the protection of the flow, purity, and beauty of the river in several ways. They have always been concerned about local river water quality and have invested money in water quality monitoring kits and scientific studies on the health of the river. For example, the River Rangers are a subgroup of SMRF that partners with Texas Stream Team to test water quality. They use water quality monitoring kits to teach citizen scientists how to test the water quality of the San Marcos River. Additionally, SMRF invests in land conservation by purchasing land in the aquifer recharge zones around the headwaters to ensure the river flows clearly in the future. SMRF is also a member of the Basin and Bay Area Stakeholder Committee, which has the mission of ensuring adequate flow of the San Marcos River all the way from the head of the river at Spring Lake to the Gulf of Mexico. At times, SMRF has acted like a lobbying group to reduce water consumption and depletion of the aquifer. SMRF also acts as the voice of the river and speaks up when a local project will have negative effects on the health of the water or the rare species that live in it.. In addition to protecting the river, SMRF works to educate the citizenry of San Marcos. Finally, public outreach and education are achieved by sending out weekly news letters via email and by having booths at local events around town to educate the public about SMRF’s mission and our river.
Dianne Wassenich, program director, is one of the only two paid staff members of SMRF. The River Rangers coordinator is another paid staff member. They have a total of eight volunteer board members and approximately 300 members. They are funded by membership dues, donations, fundraising projects, grants, the AmazonSmile Foundation, Earthshare payroll donations, and the Reliant EcoShareSM.
I have learned about the importance of grant writing in the non-profit sector while interning with the River Foundation. I attended a workshop, hosted by the Price Center and Stephanie Korcheck, a research coordinator for proposal development in the College of Education at Texas State University. The workshop was about effective strategies for developing and crafting grants for not-for-profit organizations. Ms. Korcheck started the workshop by explaining how grants should be “crafted,” not just written. She suggested that grant crafters try to find a way to let their passion for the project come through in their writing. When crafting a grant, it is also important to think grandiosely and include any broader impact the project will have on the community, nation, or even the world. Ms. Korcheck compared a grant proposal to a sales pitch, which uses concise and compelling language and no jargon. She also talked about the significance of building a relationship with the funder. Sometimes a funder can’t provide a grant the year you asked; but if you build a relationship with them, they could consider you for another year and fund you then. I learned some key tips on how to become a better grant writer, and grants are a crucial means for funds in the non-profit sector.
I learned more about the process of grant writing by attending another workshop hosted by Nancy Berry, the author of the book Writing for Grants: Who, What, Why, Where and How. At this workshop I was given a copy of Berry’s book and had the opportunity to observe local non-profits ask questions about grant writing to Berry and three funders from the Zachary Organization, GVEC, and the Seguin Area Community Foundation. Most of the workshop was about the importance of building a relationship with funders. Berry’s book discusses how doing some background research on the organization you are asking for a grant from is very important in order to incorporate their values. Berry also points out that “there is no substitute for good research when it comes to finding good sources that bring good results.” Nancy Berry’s book is a very good reference for grant writing, and I will likely use it in the future should I ever work for a non-profit. Most non-profits need people who can write well and who understand grant writing in particular. I have learned skills and acquired resources from my internship with SMRF that will enable me to be a good grant crafter in the future.
Water Quality Testing
After being trained by the River Rangers coordinator on the use of the Texas Stream Team water quality monitoring kits, I participated in water quality testing. Texas Stream Team “is a network of trained volunteers and supportive partners working together to collect information about the natural resources of Texas and to ensure the information is available to all Texans” (Texas Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Manuel, 2009: 1). Every River Ranger has a designated cite on the river. Mine was Laurel Street by the Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.
The River Rangers are a subgroup within SMRF that use the Texas Stream Team kits to test the water quality of the San Marcos River. They started when SMRF realized the need to monitor the quality of the river monthly so that the community can react in time if the water quality ever suggested harmful bacteria (we have had E. coli in our river before) or high amounts of contamination.
I learned how to conduct conductivity readings on the river. Using a conductivity calibrator, I can test the amount of impurities in the water. Conductivity is the “measure of how well a solution conducts electricity;” and pure water, by definition, has no impurities, and is a very poor conductor of electricity (Benoit, 2004). However, in real life, water with zero impurities really doesn’t exist (Benoit, 2004). Therefore you can test the amount of impurities in the water by testing the conductivity. The water at my cite usually tested around 600 mmho/cm, which is about 100 mmho/cm more than tap water, a very safe amount of impurities for the wild life.
I also learned how to conduct a dissolved oxygen test. Dissolved oxygen “is the amount of gaseous oxygen (O2) dissolved in the water” (Texas Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Manual, 2009: 31). The dissolved oxygen (DO) tests are also “one of the most important indicators of water quality for aquatic life” ” (Texas Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Manual, 2009: 31). The DO levels at my cite were usually around 8mg/L, whereas DO levels lower than 5mg/L causes stress on aquatic life ” (Texas Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Manual, 2009: 32).
Conducting pH tests on the water at my cite was also part of my River Ranger duties. We conduct pH tests to measure the hydrogen ion concentration in the water (Benoit, 2004). The pH of pure water is 7 (Benoit, 2004), and the water at my cite had a pH of 7 or at times 7.5. I tested the pH by collecting a 5mL water sample and adding 10 drops of Wide Range Indicator. This solution turns the water green and I then match the color of green the water is to the pH viewer to get a reading.
Being trained as a River Ranger has made me a citizen scientist able to test the water quality of any body of water. I have learned how incredibly clean and pure our river is, and that has made me more passionate about protecting the San Marcos River.
Public Outreach and Education
My internship with San Marcos River Foundation also helped me learn how important public outreach and education are to environmentalism. I attended almost every City Council and Planning and Zoning meeting with Dianne in order to ensure the river had a voice in city government. I learned that being patient and observant is crucial for environmental activism. I also helped educate the San Marcos community at local events like Live on the Lawn and the 72-Degree festival for Earth Day. SMRF advocates for the removal of dams, Capes dam in particular, and I talked to several citizens about the removal of the dam.
Capes dam, which is over 150 years old, erodes further every day. It also causes sediment to build up on the bottom of the river and corrupts the environment for endemic endangered species. The Foundation seeks to educate the public about the negative effects. However, there is a local group known as “Save the San Marcos River” that has put out false information on the dam and advocates for it to stay. City Council eventually sided with SMRF on this debate and approved the dam’s removal. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has offered to remove the dam at no cost to the city. (http://sanmarcosriver.org/smrf-responds-to-critics-of-dam-removal/).
I have learned that giving a non-profit a face by having a booth at local events makes a huge difference on how the public responses to your efforts. When I was at the SMRF booth for local events, many citizens were not aware of what the Foundation did. Once I explained to them that we advocate for the protection of the San Marcos River, many of them would sign up for our newsletter or ask about how they could get involved. I learned that many people in the community want to protect the river but might not know how, and they were happy to learn about SMRF.
My internship for San Marcos River Foundation as enabled me to gain valuable knowledge about the non-profit sector and environmental advocacy. I have gained appreciation for the San Marcos River and have become more passionate about the protection of endangered species. It was very easy to become so involved with the River Foundation, because the enthusiasm from Dianne and every board member is very contagious. I have thoroughly enjoyed interning for SMRF and have learned valuable skills and knowledge that I will go on to use for the rest of my life.
Benoit, Anthony. 2004. “pH, Conductivity and TDS.” http://environmentalet.hypermart.net/ (Accessed May 8, 2017).
Berry, Nancy. 2017. Writing for Grants: Who, What, Why, Where, & How. Seguin: The National Center for Emerging Nonprofits.
Korcheck, Stephanie. Feb. 20, 2017. “Effective Strategies for Developing and Crafting Funding Proposals for Not for Profit Organizations.” The Price Center, San Marcos, TX. Workshop.
http://sanmarcosriver.org (Accessed May 8, 2017.)
“Texas Stream Team Water Quality Monitoring Manual.” 2009. San Marcos: The Meadows Center for Water and the Environment.