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  • Writer's pictureLexi Woods

UCRA Environmental Internship Program

Updated: Apr 19


Picture of Intern and UCRA staff walking towards the water quality monitoring site
UCRA CRP staff and intern approaching water quality monitoring site. Source: Ellen Groth, UCRA

As of 2023, we’re hiring interns.

Pie Chart Showing Funding Allocations
TCEQ funding allocations for the Clean Rivers Program

The TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) has awarded us funding through our partnership with LCRA (Lower Colorado River Authority) in the Texas Clean Rivers Program to enable us to provide a comprehensive environmental internship program to university students.


Wait… we clean rivers?


The Clean Rivers Program, or CRP, aims to accomplish a multitude of waterbody stewardship goals, including:


  • Encourage comprehensive and cooperative watershed planning

  • Enhance public participation and outreach

  • Maintain a basin-wide water quality monitoring program

  • Provide a scientific response to water quality problems

  • Identify, analyze and report on water quality issues and potential causes of pollution


The UCRA staff monitors stream segments and reservoirs within the upper Colorado River basin on a quarterly basis. The collected data is submitted to the LCRA for publication in the statewide database. The internship program allows students to experience real-world water quality monitoring protocols and gives them an understanding of why routinely monitoring waterbodies is important, so they may shape their scientific futures with confidence.


The routine monitoring the interns take part in includes recording field observations like weather and wind, measuring water quality parameters, such as temperature, pH, dissolved oxygen, etc., assessing flow severity and stream discharge, and collecting water samples from each site for further analysis at our partner lab, LCRA ELS (LCRA Environmental Laboratory Services).


The water samples are sent to ELS and checked for appropriate levels of bacteria, algae, and nutrients for each site. Performing these checks every quarter (4x per year) allows us to keep tabs on how our waterbodies are faring. It also helps to ensure these waterbodies are meeting the most up-to-date standards set by the EPA and TCEQ. So no, we aren’t out there with huge nets removing trash or toxins, but we do provide valuable data for statewide assessment. This work is important because it allows agencies to protect wildlife, fishers, recreation, and public safety in our rivers and lakes. Many special projects have been initiated in response to CRP routine monitoring in the Colorado River Basin, such as LCRA’s bacteria source study to locate a definitive source of elevated bacteria levels in an impaired segment of the Colorado River.



Basin reports published through our partners at LCRA and TCEQ, include the annual Basin Highlights Report and a Basin Summary Report which is published every five years . [Read the latest versions here] The work our staff and interns do is highlighted in these reports and made publicly available to our stakeholders and anyone else interested in our basin.

This internship program was developed by our environmental specialist to help students better understand the professional work environment and the inner workings of a governmental agency as well.


Our interns do a lot.


Intern Marissa conducting a survey using PVC quadrant.
Marissa performing a vegetation survey using a PVC quadrant. Source: Lexi Woods, LCRA

In addition to being out in the field with our CRP staff, the interns learn how to identify potential water quality issues and develop a personalized research project to address them.


Marissa, one of our previous interns, assessed vegetation functional groups (terrestrial, aquatic submerged, and aquatic floating) as their percent cover compared with certain water quality parameters like pH, temperature, and nutrient levels. Another previous intern’s project revolved around microorganisms in the Concho River. Cora observed the abundance of different microorganisms in various sediment samples from stream beds along the South and Middle Concho River forks.


Some skills our interns learn:

·         Water quality monitoring

·         Boater safety certification

·         Research design

·         West Texas habitat assessment

·         Community outreach


Is that it? No way.


Intern Cora applying preservative to mixed substrate sample
Cora applying preservative to a mixed substrate sample. Source: Lexi Woods, UCRA

An education and outreach component is also an element  of  the internship program. Effectively communicating the significance of a project to stakeholders and community members is an important part of the environmental industry.


Keeping stakeholders informed allows for community support of a project, additional funding opportunities, and new partnerships with other organizations.


For example, in our Brady Creek Watershed Partnership demonstration project, UCRA was able to create an excellent rapport with the City of Brady along with multiple municipal and community groups, which helped reduce our construction costs and reach a substantially larger amount of the community.


From data to funding, the CRP is dedicated to providing transparency in all aspects of the program. In fact, community involvement is a huge part of maintaining the health of our watersheds because those who benefit most from pollution preventative measures are those who utilize our watershed resources the most. Our interns create their own community outreach activities to actively engage other students, parents, teachers, schools, etc., in watershed stewardship. They work closely with our environmental specialist and education & outreach coordinator to ensure their projects are engaging, fiscally viable, and most importantly, fun!


“I learned so much from my time with the UCRA. I feel like I am more confident as an aspiring scientist. I gained knowledge about what the team does and stands for. I can take what I've learned and expand on the concepts I was especially intrigued about, like macroinvertebrates.”


-          Marissa


“I enjoyed learning how to use new tools and collect samples. Before I began the internship, I knew that water quality samples were taken by organizations such as the UCRA but didn’t fully understand how the samples were taken and analyzed. Being able to not only see how the process works but to also collect the samples myself was very interesting and fun. I also just liked being outdoors and getting to walk around in the water!”


-          Vivian


Want to apply?

Intern Vivian searching for mussels in the Concho River for a macroinvertabrate assessment
Vivian searching for mussels in the Concho River for a macroinvertabrate assessment. Source: Lexi Woods, UCRA

All applicants must be enrolled in an accredited university 4-year degree program in aquatic science, or related field.


Applications will be accepted through May 15th, 2024, 5pm CST for the Summer 2024 internship period.


Application period for Summer 2025:


Opens: September 25, 2024, 8am CST Closes: May 15, 2025, 5pm CST


For more information on how to apply for the UCRA Environmental Internship Program, click here or send an email to our internship supervisor, Lexi Woods at lexiw@ucratx.org.


More information


Here’s some links to our partners’ websites and more information about the CRP. Please feel free to reach out to any of our staff with questions or comments. We’d love to hear from you!


LCRA’s website: https://www.lcra.org


TCEQ’s website: https://www.tceq.texas.gov



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