Caring for the water and the creatures that call it home is a way of life for the members of the Quileute Indian Tribe.

“Every fish matters for the Quileute people,” said Tony Foster, a Quileute Tribal Council member. “We need to preserve what we have for future generations to come. This is home to us. This is where we belong.”

Now an innovative project taken up in conjunction with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will make sure details of that stewardship are a mouse-click away.

The tribe and government agencies joined forces for a story map – an online, interactive tool that allows readers to learn about the tribe’s history and efforts to monitor and maintain water quality. A team-up between Quileute water quality biologist Nicole Rasmussen and EPA Region 10 Tribal 106 coordinator Krista Mendelman, the story map took three years of work, with the COVID-19 pandemic slowing the pace of the project.

The effort was worth it, Rasmussen said.

“Not enough good information about what the tribes are doing gets out there,” Rasmussen said. “There’s a lot of good work being done by tribes, a lot of good fisheries management.”

The Quileute Reservation covers 2,172 acres located at the mouth of the Quillayute River before it flows into the Pacific Ocean. It contains one of the last remaining watersheds without endangered or threatened salmon runs, in which the salmon don’t require the protection of the Endangered Species Act.

Caring for the watershed in the face of climate change, water quality degradation, invasive plant growth and negative impacts from timber harvests is a daunting challenge and a lot of work. Some of the tribe’s efforts are fueled by funding through the EPA’s Region 10 Clean Water Act Section 106 Tribal Program.

Both the work and the challenge are explained through the story map. It not only explains how water quality is evaluated – such as the monitoring of water temperatures, stream sediment and many other factors – but puts readers at the scene with photos and videos.

There are even interactive features. With one, readers can click arrows to take a kayak tour down a stretch of the Quillayute River on a sunny day. With another, readers can explore results from water-quality monitoring sites, clicking and dragging to customize the data.

“I don’t know how the EPA did the webpage design, but it was awesome,” said Rasmussen, who not only works to monitor and protect water quality but also mentors young people interested in natural resources management. “I hope people understand all the things tribes are doing to protect their treaty resources.”

Photo provided by EPA. Story: Trevor Pyle