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  • Hello and welcome to Sideshow Talk Show The Day on Sideshow, where we talked to interesting people about interesting stuff.

  • Today I'm joined by a hydrologist, Casey Ryan, who works here in Montana, studying water and how it moves around.

  • I You're gonna have to give me a just a quick explanation of what?

  • Hydraulic.

  • Just still you're exactly right.

  • Thanks.

  • So, uh, so hydrology is the study of water.

  • Basically, um, if you want to impact that and expanded a little bit hydrologist study, the occurrence, the distribution, the circulation and the properties of water of the Earth and also of the atmosphere.

  • Well, I mean, that sounds important.

  • I feel pretty reliant on water.

  • Like is if I didn't have it, I would die fairly quickly.

  • Um, both in terms of like, needing it for my own personal use.

  • But also, I think that it's pretty important for the for lake ecosystems also for agriculture.

  • So it's pretty important set of things to understand.

  • Yeah, I like to think so.

  • And you talked about a really great thing, Hank.

  • And that is that water is our most important resource on Earth.

  • Right?

  • As you alluded to really rely on it, and we all depend on.

  • Yeah, And as our tribal elders tell us, there's no substitute and there's no replacement.

  • Yes.

  • So that is why I thought Water Resource Is and water management was such a cool professional field to get into.

  • Yeah, and why I enjoy it and why?

  • I think it's supported.

  • So you work with the tribe?

  • I do.

  • So I work with Confederated Salish Kootenai tribes in western Montana, so were housed on the 1.3 million acre Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

  • I've been there.

  • It's a beautiful place.

  • Yeah, Yeah, absolutely.

  • Um, so on a day to day basis, what are you doing to keep tabs on it, too?

  • Like what are you learning from what you like?

  • You have, like, water measurement stations, I assume all over the place.

  • Yeah, of course.

  • It's really the great it's ah, being a hydrologist.

  • It's a great job.

  • If you like to be outside, right, Right is in the summer, this time of year, when everything is beautiful outside and it's nice and warm.

  • There's lots of field work that we need to go do.

  • And then in the winter, when it's negative 20 or 30.

  • Here in western Montana, there's lots of paperwork to dio to analyze all your data.

  • Yeah, the water isn't doing anything.

  • It's a statistic, Nick saying right there, frozen on the surface, especially in January.

  • Here, when it gets very cold, it does.

  • And so you're keeping tabs on what's going on with water on the reservation.

  • What do you do with that information?

  • So what we do, Hank, is we have, ah, water resource is program, and that's housed within the natural resource is Department of the Confederated Salish Kootenai Tribes.

  • And so we really ah, we really do several things.

  • One of them is we measure water.

  • So we have a water measurement program, and that involves 83 gauges that we have spread throughout the reservation.

  • And we really do three things with these water gauges.

  • We measure water where it's coming from where it is and where it's going across the reservation, right, and that changes from year to year.

  • I imagine knowing from day to day in for a minute.

  • That's one of the things about water in the West.

  • Yeah, so we can use that data to help inform agriculture Agriculture, of course, is a very big part of the economy here in western Montana, on its very big up on the reservation as well.

  • There's a lot of irrigated acres over 130,000 irrigated acres on the reservation, so we have over 1300 miles of canal on the reservation.

  • The conveys water to farmers and ranchers, and we have gauges that tell us where that water is in real time.

  • So what we can do with that data, Hank, is we can help to make water measurement decisions so that we're allocating water to the right place at the right time, but also making sure that we leave enough water in the streams for the fish and for recreation.

  • Absolutely so That's one of the things you d'oh feel like.

  • You said there were three.

  • That's just one of the things way.

  • Help protect fisheries.

  • So we have several species, both of cultural concern and also some species that are on the threatened and endangered list.

  • So, for example, bull trout, it's like the grizzly bear of fish.

  • It requires very cold, clean, calm legs and connected ecosystems.

  • It's a threatened and endangered species and so federally were mandated to protect it.

  • But we also have a cultural imperative to protect the bull trout.

  • The bull trout are, ah, species of particular cultural importance to us.

  • In fact, if you look at a map of traditional sale ish place names, we have more places that are named after bull trout than any other plant or animal.

  • Awesome.

  • In Missoula, for example, the confluence of the Rattlesnake Creek and the clerk for Creek in sale ish is a which means the place of the small bull trout.

  • But not the big ones, not the big ones.

  • Those air further.

  • Okay, you know he knows, Uh, and so that's number two fisheries.

  • That's number two.

  • And then the third thing we do is actually really fun.

  • And that's where the science comes.

  • Yeah, because once you have a long term data set of any particular river or stream, then you're able to monitor changes over time changes as a result of changes in land use on then also changes that may result from a changing climate, For example, we can look at our data and see that over the past 30 years, snowmelt has actually started to occur earlier and earlier in the season.

  • Yep.

  • Now here in the West, we're seeing snow melt happen about two weeks earlier than it did just a short 3 to 5 decades ago.

  • And that, I feel like, probably would increase the fire.

  • Season two if you have water happening like you have sort of a bigger space between when the snow is melting and when the snow is coming back absolutely and unfortunate.

  • For those of us who like to get out and recreation August, we'll just be outside at all.

  • Yeah, yeah, it's It's been smoky.

  • Last year was a very smoky here, Um, and I know that, you know, we had bad fires here, but there are bad fires all over the place.

  • Um, you also work on There's some kind of fire related thing that you're also working on.

  • Yeah, that's correct.

  • Thanks.

  • So one of the fun things that I get to do in my position is I actually had the privilege of being invited to a national team.

  • It's called the Burned Area Emergency Response Team.

  • Cool.

  • That's kind of a mouthful.

  • So we usually go with the acronym bear.

  • That's great.

  • That's great.

  • So, uh, bear team is a group of scientists and engineers.

  • Yeah.

  • They come in immediately after a wildfire that Moses, significant risks to life, property or critical cultural and natural resource is.

  • And what we do is we use science and technology to determine if there is a risk to those.

  • Resource is.

  • And if there is, then we engineer solutions to try to prevent and reduce those risks.

  • So, after a fire, I mean, obviously, the landscape has changed.

  • Um, what are you looking out for?

  • That might be a potential risk.

  • Yeah.

  • So it depends on who you are on the team.

  • Right?

  • So this is a team of scientists and engineers, and they're basically called in depending upon what the resource at risk is.

  • So let's say that you have some cultural sites that are at risk.

  • You might bring in a cultural resource specialist, and they can go in, and they can map and determine which sites may be at risk and and how to prevent them from things like looting.

  • Okay, If there are threatened and endangered species involved, you may bring in a botanist or a biologist, or if I of course, One of the major effects on the landscape is a result of fire is how that landscape is gonna respond toe water into precipitation events.

  • Right.

  • So hydrologist is quite often brought in, which is great news.

  • If you are a hydrologist, because it means opportunities toe travel, see amazing new places and of course, help people right?

  • And so if you suddenly don't have a lot of vegetation that usedto have maybe holding that all that land in place you're looking out for, like, landslide risk one.

  • Exactly.

  • So watersheds do a number of things, and when you have fire come onto a landscape, it changes things dramatically.

  • A cz you alluded to.

  • You don't have the vegetation there, So not only do you lose all the shade when you're hiking, you also lose the shade that insulates the ground and protects the ground from from thermal radiation.

  • And what that does is it removes a lot of the landscapes ability thio shed water, transpire, water toehold, snowpack, and as a result, you tend to see very dramatic flashes of water through the system from dryers and also, as you alluded to their high risk of flood and debris flows, right.

  • So the water moves through the system much more quickly being held up, by the way, I like, you know, transpiration by, like plants taking it up.

  • And I imagine, also is transporting on more sediment.

  • Absolutely sediment.

  • And the other thing that fire could do if it burns very hot, is it?

  • Can the hydrocarbon residue can actually get into those pores in the soil, lugged them up.

  • And so what you have, then it is soil that is very water repellent.

  • We call it Hydro from Bisset.

  • You're hydrophobic soils, right?

  • And then it just slides right off the surface.

  • If you get it.

  • If you get a precipitation event or, ah, two inches of rain in one day, for example, that could be very bad news.

  • So we'd come in and try to engineer solutions to try to minimize those risks.

  • How long have been on this team?

  • So I've been on this team for 2.5 years now.

  • Last year, for example, I got to go help out the folks in California on the Mendocino complex fire, which was over 400,000 acre fire in California that, uh, Californians know very well.

  • It was very devastating to a lot of people.

  • So the opportunity to go there and to try to help with those efforts was really rewarding for me.

  • Is this something that you have any idea that that existed when you were going through school?

  • No, actually, I had heard a little bit about thes wildfire reliefs efforts, and I've studied it a little bit in school.

  • But I remember backpacking and I was in the rattlesnake wilderness just north of Missoula, and I remember sitting on a ridge and I was drinking my coffee and I was looking out and watching the huge mushroom cloud that was coming up over Thea Liberty Fire at the time.

  • And I had no idea that 24 hours later I would be in an inn briefing and I would be at the start of what would be a 14 day deployment, working 16 hours a day to try to bring some relief to those efforts.

  • Wow!

  • And I mean eso like, obviously there's a day to day science.

  • But then there's also sort of a disaster response part of your job, which is not something that I would have imagined as you know, a sort of working scientist.

  • When I tell people I'm a hydrologist, there's really a lot that goes into that.

  • So I tend to just tell people that I'm a water engineer.

  • That raises less questions.

  • Water engineer and also science first responder.

  • I like that.

  • Thanks.

  • Uh, yeah.

  • And do you?

  • Ah, have you been seeing a sort of increase in these kinds of impacts?

  • We have.

  • So here in the West, we've noticed that wildfire wildfire season has increased by over 36 days per season.

  • And that was out of some research that came out of the Rocky Mountain Research station just two or three years ago.

  • So we've definitely noticed those impacts.

  • If you're someone who's lived here in the West for a good deal of time, you condemn finitely.

  • Notice that the climate around here is certainly changing.

  • Yeah.

  • What's that about?

  • Well, wait could fill a whole episode.

  • Yeah.

  • No.

  • Yeah.

  • No, uh, way.

  • D'oh!

  • Wait.

  • Try, um, the impacts of many.

  • They affect recreation.

  • They affect the economy here in western Montana.

  • And another effect that it has for our tribes is it has an effect on our traditional way of life.

  • So our tribal creation stories are contained within a set of sacred stories that are on Lee, brought out in the wintertime when the snow is on the ground and then when the snow has melted.

  • We put those stories away until the followings until the following winter.

  • And so one of the effects of a changing climate is that we have these traditional sacred stories that have been passed down for thousands of years.

  • And as we see snow pack snowmelt occur earlier and earlier and reducing snowpacks, it raises really tough questions about what our tribal elders will do with these stories.

  • If we have a winter with, say, for example, no snow on the ground, right?

  • So you're working with the bear program, Is that right?

  • That's correct.

  • And But you also work with the tribe.

  • I d'oh and s So So what's your affiliation there?

  • So my affiliation there.

  • So I am bitter.

  • It's a lish.

  • I'm enrolled member of the Confederated Salish include any tribes OK, and that is a collection of the Salish, the coup tinny, and the pond array, also known as the upper callous spell tribes.

  • So my tribal ancestry is bitter Salish, and we once occupied over 20 million acres of what is now Idaho, Montana, Wyoming and up into a British Columbia.

  • So we now currently reside on the Flathead Indian Reservation in western Montana.

  • That's about 1.3 million acres, very diverse territory, everything from cedar forests to sage brush, step country.

  • And that is, Ah, reservation that we reserved in 18 55 in the Treaty of Hellgate.

  • So that is where I work.

  • It's where our tribal government is housed, and it's where we have a tribal natural resource program.

  • So what I do with the tribal natural resource program is I helped to manage.

  • The resource is particularly of the water resource is of the reservation trying to conserve and protect them both for current and for future generations.

  • I think a lot of people don't understand.

  • Maybe me as well.

  • How does the tribal government interface with state federal government, like how, how independent visit and how sort of like How does it interface with those other governments?

  • Yeah, So our tribal government, we are, uh, we are governed by a tribal council, which consists of 10 elected tribal council women and tribal councilmen and they serve is our central government.

  • We are a sovereign nation.

  • And so we have a state to state relationship, both with the state of Montana and also with the federal government.

  • So we manage the resource is and the politics, the Flathead Indian Reservation.

  • But we also have very good relations with our non tribal neighbors.

  • So, for example, I have contemporaries in the in state government and in the federal government, and we have very good working relationships for both on and off reservation issues.

  • I mean, I think so few people understand that there is this state to state relationship with with tribal governments and that this is actually kind of, ah, another sovereign nation inside of our country.

  • We are, And it can be very complicated.

  • If you've never been to an Indian reservation, I would highly encourage you to come visit us.

  • Um, we have, uh, guest that is going to join us.

  • I haven't seen this guest in a while, but I don't I don't know how much you've probably seen a number of beavers close up.

  • I have.

  • And I've read this guest biography and I'm very excited.

  • Me too.

  • I haven't seen Huckleberry in a while.

  • I think that Huckleberry might have gotten bigger.

  • Okay, I'm ready.

  • Hey, look, Are we?

  • It's Huckleberry the Beaver.

  • I don't know why.

  • I felt like beavers weren't that big butt.

  • Huckleberry isn't even full size, right?

  • No.

  • He's almost two years old and they mature between two and three.

  • So he's got He's got some room to grow.

  • He's Ah, he's already He's about £40 right now and they average about 60 50 to 60 in the wild.

  • Some of the bigger guys get to be about £70.

  • That surprises me dressy.

  • I've seen pictures of Huckleberry before at doesn't care that I expect any super strong, too.

  • He's just like solid muscle.

  • And but he's not.

  • No, he's pretty content just sitting on my lap, eaten in the streets.

  • What good?