Shelby Cutter ’19 Leads Stream Restoration Projects at Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council in WW, WA

My name is Shelby Cutter and I am going to be a senior Geology major next year. This summer I’m working with the Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council (WWBWC) and fellow geology student, Hailey Kirlin, completing a river survey of Couse Creek, near Milton-Freewater, Oregon. We are surveying an 8-mile stretch of the creek to gain a better understanding of why so many fish spawn in the area. Starting where the creek flows into the Walla Walla River and moving upstream to the headwaters, we stop at different river features, such as pools, riffles, or steps (waterfalls), and measure the many different aspects of it, like height, width, etc. These measurements will tell us how much sufficient fish spawning habitat there is and possibly if a stream restoration would ever be needed to keep the fish there.

Working on this creek has given Hailey and me valuable experience for when we are conducting a similar survey on the south fork of the Walla Walla River, by Harris Park.  A Whitman biology professor lives on a roughly 1 mile stretch of river that will be undergoing a restoration process starting July 15, 2018. In our time that isn’t spent on Couse Creek with WWBWC, we are up on the river flying drones, using GPS and other surveying equipment to understand the current morphology of the river channel itself and the surrounding land. One of the more common practices we do is a pebble count, which is where you go in a straight line across the river picking up 100 rocks from the river bottom, and measuring them. This gives us an idea of the average grain size, which is an essential value in deciding if it is good for fish spawning habitat. The Walla Walla River isn’t, which is why they are doing the restoration. Having detailed values and notes on why it isn’t good habitat will help after the restoration is complete in deciding if the restoration worked and created good fish spawning habitat.

I hope to write my senior thesis on this pre-restoration survey of the Walla Walla River and also use the skills that I learn later in my life. River restoration is quickly becoming a substantial career field and knowing how to use survey equipment and proper river morphology terms is important in being able to secure a job in this field later down the road. After the restoration is complete, Hailey and I will hopefully be able to get some post-survey data but the project will most likely be handed down to a younger geology major so they can finish the project, completing a full post-restoration survey and answer the question “Did the restoration work in the intended way?”


Experiences like Shelby’s are made possible by the Whitman Internship Grant, which provides funding for students to participate in unpaid internships at both for-profit and non-profit organizations. To learn how you could secure a Whitman Internship Grant or host a Whitman intern at your organization, click here or contact Assistant Director for Internship Programs Victoria Wolff

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