Colombia was an amazing experience, but after 6 months of 35-40 degree weather every day (and night) I was very happy to be home. I got home just a few days before Christmas, which made homecoming all the sweeter. But after the holidays it was back to real life… Couch surfing in Victoria while looking for both a place to live and a job at least somewhat related to my degree. Job prospects were rather slim from what I could find; however there were a few volunteer opportunities. Roberta Hamme, who had been a prof as well as a workstudy supervisor for me had put me in touch withthe Capital Regional District who were looking to set up a Winkler Titration. (Winkler Titrations are the most accurate way to find the oxygen content in a water sample. I had learned how to do them in one of Roberta’s classes and had practiced them and learned how to make up all the required chemical reagents as part of my workstudy). Myself along with a fellow Ocean Science Minor alum met with the CRD contact in mid-January to begin to form plans for setting up the Winkler. We went over the equipment that they already had, and made a list of what was still required along with a timeline for making the chemicals before the first sampling date a couple weeks later.
Two days after our meeting I received an email from the CRD asking if I would like to interview for a 3 month position to help pick up some slack as there had been some short notice shuffling of employees in the Environmental Protection department. This sounded like exactly the type of work I had been looking for and jumped at the chance. And 10 days after our first meeting, I was hired as an environmental technician. Setting up the Winkler titration went from being a volunteer activity and networking opportunity to being one of my duties in my new position.
My time is more or less split between the Marine and the GeoEnvironmental programs of the Environmental Protection division. My regular tasks are sample collecting at the sewer outfalls on the John Strickland once a week for 5 weeks, every three months (so pretty much boat time was the first thing I did, and will also be the last thing I do with the CRD). I also got to go out on the boat to deploy some moorings with oxygen sensors – this was the initial reason for wanting to set up the Winkler Titrations because the sensors will be left in place for 6 months before being collected, using Winkler Titrations it would be possible to verify, and if necessary, correct for any drift in the sensors.
A couple weeks after the round of boat sampling I put more time in with the GeoEnvironmental program and was out at Hartland Landfill 3 days a week collecting groundwater samples. It doesn’t sound that exciting, going to the ‘dump’ but almost all of the well sites are on the outskirts in the forest and are not contaminated. And there are tons of eagles and ravens to watch while waiting for the well to finish pumping! Following the groundwater sampling I helped with a 2 day gas survey at the landfill – this time we were right in the thick of things, walking a 50 metre by 50 metre grid with a Flame Ionization Detector for methane and another instrument nick-named Jerome for hydrogen sulphide. The equipment looks just like the Ghostbusters’ proton packs except with an over the shoulder strap instead of a backpack. The point of the gas survey was to find methane ‘hot spots’ since methane is collected at Hartland and burned at a small on site power plant.
Weekly I set up and collect samples from the Macaulay and Clover Point sewage pump stations. Not glamorous, but it doesn’t really smell too bad – this is at the point right before it goes out into the ocean and as such has had all (…most) of the solids filtered out. And plus it gets me out of the office for a couple hours!
A week or two ago we started another 5 week round of boat sampling (1 day a week). I spent April 4 on the R/V John Strickland. Our morning started out a little grey and looking like maybe rain, but things started looking up, when at our second station we were passed by a pod of 5 or 6 orca! Then off in the distance the deckhand spotted a submarine cruising out to sea from the base. And to top it all off by the time we were at our 3rd station the clouds had parted and the sun came out! The following week my supervisor had a meeting to attend on the sampling day, so I was out with her supervisor who had not done boat sampling for a while so it was up to me to lead the sampling events and remember how everything worked – aside form mis-labeling a few bottles it went off without a hitch!
Even as my time here winds down, I am learning new things! I am currently helping with a surface water survey in of the water bodies around Hartland. The job involves walking to little streams, creeks and lakes to collect water samples in order to ensure that no contaminated water is leaving the landfill via surface flow. Apparently the last surface water survey was a little chilly because it was in early January, but walking through the forest in the middle of April is very enjoyable… even if it rains a little.
My time with the CRD is wrapping up now; my contract is up at the end of the month just before the last day of boat work! There was another work opportunity in the same department, but the job had to be offered to regular employees before I could apply and they got a fair bit of interest in the position so it looks like starting next month I will be back in the hunt for another new experience.