Works and Days

We Love Clean Rivers Environmental Stewardship Internship: McGill Lawrence Internship Award, Joshua Tsang

Recipient of the McGill Lawrence Internship Award, Joshua Tsang '18, is combating water pollution through water quality monitoring of rivers around Portland with the nonprofit organization We Love Clean Rivers.

Hands-on and Hands-off River Scrubbing:

As I catch-up with my friends about their going-ons over this summer, I find myself very lucky to have chosen to work in the rivers around Portland this summer. After listening to my peers’ horror stories of desk jobs in air-conditionless offices, sitting in front of a turbo-powered fan blowing sweltering, 100 degree heat into their faces, I nonchalantly describe yesterday’s work, wading in and out of the Willamette, taking temperature readings that output 65 oF. This summer, I am working with an environmental non-profit called We Love Clean Rivers, which is dedicated to cleaning high-use rivers by mobilizing the rivers’ recreational users. Through partnerships with other local environmental organizations like the River Network, the Willamette Riverkeeper, and the Human Access Project, WLCR aims to increase community understanding and engagement with river restoration. Where do I fit into all of this? Since the common goal of these organizations is not only to clean local rivers, but to engage the nearby communities into helping as well, I have been working on various tasks that aid the transition from the hands-on work done directly by these environmental organizations to ‘hands-off’ work done by volunteers and nearby landowners.  


The process of engaging the public with river restoration begins with creating a means for the public to do so. I am doing just that by creating a water quality monitoring and analysis plan applicable to the Willamette River between the Willamette Falls and the Milwaukie area. This stretch of the Willamette requires constant monitoring in the summer as temperatures rise to near-lethal levels for most salmonid species. Many of the newly born salmon fry can only find solace in the cold-water tributaries to the Willamette. Thus these tributaries are the target locations for my monitoring project. As I design the sampling and monitoring process, I have used myself as a guinea pig, testing the waters (literally) around my chosen sites in order to both gather data and understand the obstacles that the public will face when I eventually hand off the work I am doing to volunteers. This is the most challenging aspect of my project: to determine how to engage local landowners with river health in order to recruit volunteers that will take over my monitoring and sampling tasks after I complete my internship.  

Although I am currently working on creating a new project to engage the public, I am also helping to organize several events for which the framework required to involve the public has already been laid. One of these projects is the Human Access Project’s River Hugger Swim Team, a group of swimmers who swim across the Willamette three mornings a week in order to protest against the lack of access to the Willamette. I assist by organizing and safely escorting swimmers across the river, and by connecting more people to the swim team in order to increase awareness about the team. A larger swim team garners more attention, which in turn prompts the public, the government and other environmental organizations to care about keeping the Willamette clean and accessible for human recreational access. Another initiative for We Love Clean Rivers that I am involved with is the 2015 Down the River Clean Up on the Clackamas River, during which volunteer recreationalists paddle down the Lower Clackamas and pick up over 5000 pounds of trash. This year, I am helping to fundraise, organize and coordinate this 500+ person event. Over the past thirteen years, We Love Clean Rivers has recruited over 3,400 volunteers to remove over 62,000 pounds of trash from the Clackamas through this event, and hopefully those numbers will keep growing for years to come! These two projects are perfect examples of the work that not only NPOs do, but also the change that the public can make to aid river restoration efforts around Portland.


Upon completing this blog post, I have come to appreciate my summer not only as a three month long internship, but also as an experience with an impact that will continue to last a lifetime, and many lifetimes to come. It is extremely rewarding to know that my short summer will not mark the end of the limited work on the rivers that I can do by myself, but that the work I have done will allow others to continue to increase river health around Portland for years to come. 

Tags: mcgill lawrence, internship, summer, environment, community, water, ecosystem, ecology