Neva Widner’s experience as a corps member in the Conservation Apprenticeship Academy during its inaugural year led to a quick and fortuitous opportunity. Widner served in the Carlton County Soil & Water Conservation District in the summer 2011, working directly with the District’s water resources coordinator. Her service ranged from water quality monitoring to wetland delineations to surveying streams and runoff on farms. Recently, when her former supervisor left Carlton SWCD, Widner was hired to fill the position of Water Resources Technician.
Widner proved herself through a particularly challenging experience during her apprenticeship. On August 1, torrential rains in the Nemadji watershed required immediate response. “The rain event really tested my monitoring skills,” says Widner. “Within a matter of hours, 5.5 inches of rain fell and rivers were the highest they’ve ever been recorded in the 37 years of historic flow records. … I could truly take inventory of my knowledge and skills.”
At Carlton County SWCD, Widner coordinates and manages monitoring, restoration projects, assessments and citizen volunteers. “I go to work each day with a smile on my face, a realization I have the opportunity to work in a field I am passionate about, and an appreciation that it was largely made possible because of my experience in the Conservation Corps Apprenticeship Academy,” Widner says.
Read the full interview:
When were you in the Corps, year and program?
I was a Conservation Apprentice last summer, 2011, during the first year of the Conservation Apprenticeship Academy.
Where did you work?
I was placed at the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District.
What kind of work did you do?
I participated in various forms of natural resource management work ranging from water quality monitoring to wetland delineations to surveying streams and runoff on farms. Primarily, I assisted with the TMDL (total maximum daily load) and SWAG (surface water assessment grant) water quality monitoring projects in the Nemadji watershed. I also was able to provide the SWCD GIS and data analysis support to conduct additional database and mapping work.
Were there any particularly memorable or challenging experiences?
“The Perfect Storm” of the Nemadji watershed took place August 1, 2011. During this time period my supervisor, the Water Resources Coordinator, was unable to work due to the state shutdown, however I had an extended period of time where I could work. During this staffing situation a large rain event took place in the Nemadji watershed and I was the only person who could go out and conduct the river monitoring. I put on my boots, calibrated the multiprobe Sonde, and hopped in the van to go out and monitor – it was my first time doing the monitoring without my supervisor along. The rain event really tested my monitoring skills, within a matter of hours 5.5 inches of rain fell and rivers were the highest they’ve ever been recorded in the 37 years of historic flow records. Throughout that day I could truly take inventory of my knowledge and skills, knowing full well that at the beginning of the apprenticeship program I would not have had a clue as to what I was doing.
The Nemadji watershed has very turbid (muddy/cloudy) water due to the clay/silt soils and erosion throughout the watershed. It also flows into Lake Superior, so when there are large rain falls the suspended sediments in the rivers get flushed into the harbor, which then the US Army Corps of Engineers have to dredge out. A satellite picture taken on that large rain event shows the Nemadji River flushing the soils into the great lake from space (see page 2 at the following link). http://carltonswcd.org/Nemadji/TMDLNewsletterAug2011_Final2.pdf
What was/has been the most personally meaningful part of the experience?
As a Conservation Apprentice I had the opportunity to work alongside natural resource professionals from federal, state and regional agencies and organizations. A large aspect of this work that you cannot gain from the classroom is the functional relationships between these various organizations and the ability to gain the conservation acronym dialect. SWCD, NRCS, BWSR, MNDNR, MPCA, TMDL, CWF, WCA, GLRI, USFWS, EPA, etc… It’s a new vocabulary and the ability to become proficient not only in knowing the words but understanding the relationships is what makes the difference. Also, the staff at the Carlton SWCD was always willing to answer any questions I had, show me any skills I desired and test my knowledge. They allowed me to grow from an inexperienced apprentice to an experienced technician.
Did your experience shape your current career/life in any way?
My time as a Conservation Apprentice allowed me to become a highly skilled, knowledgeable and experienced asset for my current employer. I certainly was able to further develop the hard skills of water quality monitoring, GIS and data analysis; however, more importantly I was able to build the soft skills, the relationships, and establish a network of natural resource professionals and an understanding the collaborative functionality of their various agencies.
What is your current position?
I am the Water Resources Technician at the Carlton County Soil and Water Conservation District. The previous Water Resources Coordinator (my supervisor from last summer) took a position from one of the state agencies leaving an opening which required the knowledge and skills I had developed the summer prior as a Conservation Apprentice.
What do you do?
I conduct water quality monitoring for MPCA grants, restoration projects to re-establish trout streams under a USFWS grant, assessments of outdated culverts and dams, and organize citizen volunteer monitoring programs. I also am responsible for the managerial elements of the projects, often including GIS and data analysis, project reporting and grant applications. I go to work each day with a smile on my face, a realization I have the opportunity to work in a field I am passionate about, and an appreciation that it was largely made possible because of my experience in the Conservation Corps Apprenticeship Academy.