Sheryl Mills spent a lot of time on the family ranch in Schulenburg as a youngster. Water rights, water quality, and weather are concerns for landowners in Texas. As an adult, she felt her charge was to be the best steward possible of our Texas land, to preserve it for her family and the future.
That included knowing as much as she could about the rangeland, wildlife, water systems and conditions, and becoming the best caretaker she could be of that land. After retiring from a career working on corporate information technology projects, she had time to focus on volunteering and wanted to find ways to add as much value to her volunteer projects as possible. To further her goal to be the best steward of her little piece of Texas, she became a master naturalist. That's where she first heard about Texas Stream Team. She's a member of the Gulf Coast Chapter of Texas Master Naturalists, active in the chapter and on the board. To learn more about Texas waters, she earned Texas Waters Specialist certification last year and became an H-GAC Texas Stream Team volunteer water quality monitor.
For now, during most of the week, she lives in Houston, so monitoring a site in Houston was important to help her learn systems and patterns.
Sometimes, the most difficult part about surveying a site is just getting to the site. Hurricanes happen! All kidding aside, it seems like just stating the obvious, but weather events like Hurricane Harvey have a huge, multi-layered impact on Texas waters, and impacted many monitoring sites in the region. Mills monitors Buffalo Bayou at North Eldridge Parkway. She said, "It didn't receive as much rain as some of the others, but it was impacted by the reservoir releases from Barker and Addicks Reservoir. The bayou flooded the surrounding area completely, and many of the homes and businesses are still vacant nine months later."
Another challenge Mills experienced was confidence with testing skills. For the first few months, she worried her results and reports were not going to be accurate. Each month doing testing and seeing patterns develop helps build that confidence. Mills said, "Watching the patterns and being able to note when something seems off or out of the ordinary is pretty cool."
Her advice to new monitors: be methodical, develop a routine, and be prepared to chat a lot. Be methodical - refer to the cheat sheet to not miss or shorten any steps in testing. Develop a routine - get into the habit of checking and prepping gear before heading to the site so things move quickly and efficiently once you get there. Be prepared to chat - her site is on a hike/bike trail, and people are always curious when they see a pair of rubber boots, some gloves, and a bunch of "science stuff." It's a great opportunity to teach (and learn) from people.