Rachel Goings, River Systems Institute

In the fall of 2007 I participated in an internship with the Texas Watch, a part of the River Systems Institute.  My job was to conduct local stakeholder interviews with people living in the Cypress Creek Watershed.  My goal was to find out what they thought about the quality and quantity of their water in that area and if they knew of the surrounding issues.

The Cypress Creek Watershed is a picturesque valley that starts at Jacob’s Well, a spring that consists of the largest known underwater cave in Texas. Cypress Creek, given its name due to the large trees that surround it, emerges from Jacob’s Well and acts as one of the major attractions to the Wimberley Valley as it flows through Blue Hole, a popular swimming area that is a natural pool and park.  It then flows through the towns of Woodcreek and Wimberley and ends at the Blanco River.  The area is a hotspot for development due to its scenic countryside as well as the homey and traditional feel of the town of Wimberley.  It has been referred to in magazines as one of the best places for retirement, and Wood Creek, right above Jacobs Well and Blue Hole, is the major area of development.

When I started working with Texas Watch they were in the process of obtaining a grant that would allow them to, as their general project description claims, “ensure that the long-term integrity and sustainability of the Cypress Creek watershed is preserved and that water quality standards are maintained for present and future generations.”  They wanted to use a dual system of obtaining both community awareness and goals and incorporating a monitoring system with a student research team to get an idea of the best ways to maintain the watershed.

I spent much of the first few months of my internship researching the area, issues, and interviewing techniques, as well as looking up surveys that had been done with similar contexts. I was also informed at that time to be careful of how I introduced myself because the project had yet to get off the ground and they did not want to offend anyone, especially in the early stages My interviewing process was a combination of names being given to me by each person that I interviewed and my driving around town for others.  I achieved a snowball effect by having people refer others to me, some of whom would only talk to me because of the previous person I interviewed calling them and referring me, so it did give me more opportunities in some ways.  In other ways it made it a very localized ethnography and didn’t give me a lot of help in getting what was considered the “other side,” or the developers and real estate agents and people who were thought to be fighting the issue.

I did enjoy the subject of my research and all of the people I spoke to had a vested interest in it themselves.  I saw a lot of potential in what I, as an ethnography student or ethnographer, could do if I had had more time for the project.  Some of the areas I could have improved on for example, were the amount of people who I interviewed; a larger, broader example of the people in this area would have proven much more dynamic.  The snowball effect had its benefits since it enabled me to meet people that were involved that I might not have met normally; however, most of these people were of the same mindset and did not represent all of the different groups of people in the area.  More information about the people I interviewed as well as a better background on the actions of the general population would also have been helpful.

Despite the fact that I cannot really claim a broad ethnographic study, it was definitely a learning experience for me, not only on the process in general but on my abilities and reactions with each situation.  I also discovered that experience is the best way to learn how things work and to deal with issues that tend to arise in these types of projects, and that I have a lot more experiencing to do.  The biggest thing I learned was that I have to not be such a perfectionist on what I think should happen because it will never go exactly how I imagine it to and that interest is a very important thing to have in anything that I am involved in.  I learned that I cannot let stress take away my momentum or it will complicate things.  In all, it was a definite learning experience.