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Photo Jackson Mathis

Jackson Mathis gears up to conduct some stream measurements with KCI in Brentwood, TN.

“Old Smiley’s Mud Hole claims another one, I see,” said the inmate as he pulled up on a large John Deere tractor to pull the work truck out of the mud. When moving from one stream profile to another at the Morgan County Correctional Facility, the small Toyota Tacoma work truck got stuck in the mud on the road. Right before the inmate came chugging up to pull out our work truck, my co-worker went to go help my supervisors to finish up the stream profile they were on.

So here I was, alone. At first, I was a little concerned about my safety. Then the inmate started laughing at my situation and I realized he was only there to help and was actually a pretty nice guy. This was one of my top experiences as an intern with KCI.

KCI Technologies is a private stream restoration firm in Brentwood, Tennessee, about a half hour from Nashville. KCI hired me as a summer field intern. Each week, we would travel to a job site somewhere in Tennessee and stay for most of the week to on the Tennessee Stream Mitigation Project. TSMP contracted KCI to solve problems with streams, primarily on private landowners’ properties, that were affecting the local watershed. KCI would go through and perform remediation or construction on the stream, widening the channel, adding trees or vegetation to the bank and surrounding area and whatever else needed to be done. Afterwards, KCI would monitor the stream for five years, with three things in mind:  monitoring the stream, monitoring the vegetation surrounding it, and completing and maintaining a pebble count.

We used surveying techniques to create a profile of the stream, as well as several cross sections. We used a total station to send signals to the prism. The prism was a large square attached to the top of a rod, with a mirror inside of it, to reflect the signals from the total station. The total station recorded location information, based on the depth and the location in the stream. When completing the profile of the stream, we tried to get a so-called “shot” or data point, about every five feet, or every time the water surface changed. The water surface consisted of runs, riffles, and pools. Riffles are shallow rocky areas where the water is fast flowing, runs are deeper areas where the water moves a little less fast and is the transition into a pool, and pools are areas where the water is deep, slow-moving, or stagnant. Every shot taken was recorded and named on a handheld data collector.

For cross sections, we used the same instruments. However, we would start at an area on the land previously marked. We then took a shot every 5 feet, making sure to note the change in topography down the stream bank. Then, we would get a water surface shot on the start and end of the width of the stream. Each cross section would either be a riffle or a pool.

Every shot taken during the profiles and cross sections would be recorded in the data collector, and uploaded to a computer to create a model of the stream to record how much it changes over time. In each job site, there were anywhere from 1-5 profiles and 2-15 cross sections, depending on the size.

We also monitored the vegetation around the stream. Each job site had multiple plots laid out around the stream in order to do so. Each plot was a rectangular 1/10 acres area, and each site could have anywhere from 10-60 plots. First, we would find the four corners of the plot, usually marked by a piece of rebar (sometimes a metal detector was used to find buried corners). We would then go in a line down the plot, length-wise recording any tree that crossed our path. When a tree was recorded, it would be recorded by its common name, and placed into a height category. After this was complete, we described the plot’s composition of weed or grass species. KCI used this data to determine how the vegetation changes over time.

The last objective to complete in each stream profile and riffle cross section was a pebble count. To do a pebble count, a total of 100 pebbles were picked out of the stream at various places during the profile, measured, and put back. These measurements would give us an idea about how the stream flow changes over time.

Between the Tennessee cottonmouths, the leeches in one of our poor quality streams, the stinging caterpillars, the hot sun, the cold streams, and the experience with the inmate, this was a summer I will never forget. The work was difficult and strenuous, but it made me fall in love with field work. I loved interacting with the landowners and explaining to them what we were doing. KCI is a great company to work for and instills their three core principles, Knowledge, Creativity, and Innovation, into every employee. I will take these principles wherever my career takes me. Both KCI, and the kind of work they do, has made me consider adding a minor in Wetland Assessment and pursue a similar field for my career. This summer, I’ll look for an opportunity to grow the skills that I developed at KCI.