South Fork Walla Walla River

The South Fork of the Walla Walla River about 3 miles downstream of Harris Park in Oregon, April 1, 2021.

The Walla Walla Basin Watershed Council recently received nearly $220,000 from the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board for projects supporting the health of the Walla Walla River system.

The Watershed Council will use the funds for four purposes: stakeholder outreach, monitoring hydrological trends, collecting data prior to rehabilitation efforts on the North Fork of the Walla Walla River, and removing a concrete barrier to fish passage on Couse Creek.

Hydrological trend monitoring involves measuring water temperature and streamflow in the Walla Walla River system, including its tributaries and distributaries, and will measure water levels in the underlying shallow alluvial aquifer during a two-year period. The Watershed Council has performed trend monitoring for years in order to assess the effectiveness of rehabilitation projects, the effects of climate change and to monitor the shallow aquifer, said Operations Manager Wendy Harris.

The shallow aquifer is of particular interest to the Watershed Council, said Executive Director Troy Baker. The gravel aquifer, which rests above a deeper basalt aquifer, is regularly recharged by the river system, but has been receding since the Watershed Council began monitoring it in the early 2000s, Baker said.

If this trend continues and the high point of the shallow aquifer becomes significantly deeper, this increases the amount of surface water seeping into the aquifer and decreases the amount of water flowing downstream, Baker said.

The Walla Walla Watershed is utilized by bull trout, summer steelhead and reintroduced spring Chinook salmon, all of which are protected by the Endangered Species Act and which are limited by a lack of summertime water flow and high water temperatures.

Another project, removing a concrete barrier in Couse Creek, would open up around 11 miles of upstream waterways to steelhead. The funding provided by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board will allow the Watershed Council to begin implementation of removal this year.

But these and other rehabilitation projects require good data both before and after implementation, Baker said, in order to verify that efforts are having the intended effect. A third project will collect data on the North Fork of the Walla Walla River to document current conditions and impacts from the February 2020 flood in preparation for future habitat restoration and enhancement along a four-mile stretch of the river.

But few of these projects are possible without buy-in from private landowners and agencies like irrigation districts, Harris said. A fourth bucket of grant funds will go towards outreach with stakeholders that the Watershed needs to work with, including by getting permission to set up monitoring systems or do other work on the properties.

These projects constitute four of 88 grants awarded recently by the Oregon Watershed Enhancement Board, totaling nearly $11.5 million toward supporting fish and wildlife habitat, as well as other water quality projects.

Funding for these grants comes from the Oregon Lottery, revenue from specialty salmon license plates, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Federal Pacific Coast Salmon Recovery funds.

Emry Dinman can be reached at or 425-941-5829.

Reporter covering agriculture, Walla Walla city and county government, and other topics.

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