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Hydrology courses reintroduced to Earth Science curriculum

Our environment’s surrounding lakes, rivers, streams, groundwater system, reservoirs, canals, levees and ditches are highly managed, according to Andy Rost, assistant professor of Science and Technology. For the first time in roughly 10 years, Rost is reviving the Hydrology course in Sierra Nevada College’s Earth Science curriculum.

“The class is basically two classes. One is an introduction to hydrology in which we’re studying aspects of the hydrologic cycle, while the second class is the Water Resources class, where we look at the historical, legal and political issues surrounding water management especially in the Western United States,” said Rost.

After drawing on the Greek prefix of ‘hydro’, meaning water, and ‘ology’, meaning study of, Rost introduces the class by using a metaphor of one’s bank account.

“In hydrology we can track water quantities as it moves through the hydrologic cycle, much like you track dollars moving through your bank account,” said Rost. “This frames much of what we have done, understanding the aspects of the hydrologic cycle and then trying to track water movement through the Incline Creek watershed.”

This semester, Rost and class have been focusing on each component of the hydrologic cycle, with an emphasis on snow driven, mountain west hydrology.

“We have developed temperature sensors and stream gauges in multiple parts of the watershed,” said Rost. “Temperature sensors will help us create a temperature-based snowmelt model while the stream gauges measure stream height from which we can predict stream discharge using student developed rating curves.”

The final project of the class is to take all the data and form a hydrologic watershed model.

Rost takes his class outside and into the field, mostly within the watershed, several times during the term.


Courtesy of Andy Rost
Hydrology Professor Andy Rost, explains to students how stream water height is continuously measured using differences in conductivity between air and water. Gauges are positioned in four locations within the watershed.

“In my opinion it is essential to physically interact with the subject of our studies, water, for truly active learning,” said Rost.

Ashley Vander Meer, junior, shared that she really enjoys the class, especially because every lab has a direct connection to what she is learning.

“I’ve learned how to take snow samples and how to use precipitation data to find frequency, the probability of non-exceedance recurrence intervals,” said Vander Meer. “This is useful in figuring out the 100-year flood of a system.”

During this term Rost has had speakers from several companies, nonprofit organizations and agencies speak to the class.

“We’ve had Dwight Smith of Interflow Hydrologic, David Shaw of Balance Hydrologic, Michele Prestowitz of Truckee River Watershed Council, Tom Hicks of Resource Renewal Institute and Scott Fennema of Student Association for International Water Issues,” said Rost.

Senior Rich Cooch said Hick’s talk about water law was inspiring.

“He gave us a great general overview outlining why we have water laws, and who, what, where they affect,” said Cooch.

The class will also spend time touring with local experts at the Upper Truckee River Restoration Project in Truckee.


Courtesy of Andy Rost
Sierra Nevada College Hydrology students take measurements on snow depth and snow water equivalent using a Federal Snow Sampler at the Incline Creek Watershed

“Students will get to see the study of hydrology ‘in practice,’ and see what it looks like to do the things we’ve been studying,” said Rost, “not only in a hydrologic sense but also in a management sense, political, legal, historical and finally to get some exposure to some potential employers.”

The hydrology course is intended to challenge students to quantify the hydrologic cycle in the Incline Creek watershed and to understand how water is managed in our society, said Rost.

“Water plays an enormous role in our lives; maybe we take it for granted that we only have to turn a faucet for clean water,” said Cooch. “I think the more we can educate ourselves on the impacts of it, or lack there of, the better.”


Geology of the Sierra Nevada, Introduction to Geology, Hydrology and Water Resources, and Climate Change and Climatology are all new or revised courses in the Earth Science curriculum at Sierra Nevada College.

The Science Research Symposium will be held at 5 p.m. on April 29 on the second floor of TCES. Displayed will be the Hydrology class’s research project and other students work from throughout the semester.

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