Robin V. Horak
Environmental Studies

Re-use of Water Determination
City of Walla Walla

Overall Reflections

Rights to Mill Creek water were established in the late 1800s for farmers in the Blalock and Gose districts. Years later as the city of Walla Walla grew, the city also required water from Mill Creek to feed its thirsty population. A court fight ensued between the City and farmers on who would receive the water during the dry summer months. Finally, a settlement was reached allowing the City to take water from Mill Creek and give Water Treatment Plant returns to the farmers. But today the federal government, namely the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), under the Endangered Species Act requires the state of Washington and the city of Walla Walla to improve Mill Creek, as it is a habitat for both Salmon and Steel Head. Thus, the loss of water from irrigation and associated contaminants (heat, pesticides, excess erosion, fertilizers, chlorine from the sewage plant . . .) and location of returns must be explored and addressed in order to comply with the EPA and ESA while still supplying the court mandated water to the water districts.

Through my work of mapping the movement of water treatment plant water through the irrigation districts and studying land use, I provided the city of Walla Walla with at least some of the information they need to find a balance between water rights and ESA. Finally, as an added personal benefit while completing my work, I have derived great pleasure from taking an active role in an environmental issue and spending time in the community. Clearly, this internship has been both a useful component of Environmental Studies and a help to the city of Walla Walla.

Experience and Learning

To complete my internship, I have been challenged to network and interview many people. It has been an invaluable learning experience communicating and working with very diverse people. Both networking and interviewing are skills I see being useful later as a doctor. Throughout the second half of my internship I have also gained experience both working with GPS unit and synthesizing data to complete my report to the city of Walla Walla—an invaluable skill.

Goals and Objectives


Three main objectives were set for my internship. First, I needed to meet with the City Utility Engineer and irrigation district managers to determine which irrigation districts take reuse water from the wastewater and treatment plant. Next, I needed to visit irrigation districts to determine and map out the flow of water from the plant through irrigation districts and its location where it enters Mill Creek. Also, I had to determine the types of water usage (irrigation methods) and types of crops grown with reuse water. Finally, to finish my internship I compiled my data and presented a report to my sponsor.


Personally, I set out goals I hoped to achieve. First, I wanted an internship that gave me field experience and not a “desk job” internship doing busy work. My internship has happily been out in the field, interviewing, walking the water districts, searching for information, compiling data and in no way clerical. Further, I hoped my internship would give me a chance to get involved in an actual environmental problem/issue and improve/clarify the problem/issue. I feel I have done a valuable service for my sponsor. My work will be compiled with others for the city of Walla Walla and the state of Washington as necessary background. They will use this research in deciding how to improve Mill Creek for trout, salmon and many other creatures. Finally, I hoped to gain a better sense of place by spending time out in the community. Through my internship I have come in contact with engineers, farmers, and scientists. I now feel far more at home in Walla Walla and count many of my contacts as friends.


While variable, on average I spent 1-3 hours a week completing my internship. I met with the city water engineer, Frank Nicholson, Virgil Trick (Blalock water district manager), and Frank Locati (Gose water district manager) several times in person and over the phone. With the help of Frank Nicholson, I discovered general water movement from the Water Treatment Plant to Mill Creek, and which districts the water traveled through (Blalock and Gose water districts). Through the interviews with the water district managers, I received maps (or the necessary information to develop maps) for water movement through both Blalock and Gose water districts. In my interviews I was also able to determine land use for the water districts. Further, I talked with many government agencies attempting to track down maps and aerial photos for Blalock and Gose districts. I also used a GPS system to mark locations for irrigation district (ID) returns to Mill Creek. Finally, I synthesized my data into a report and maps and presented it to my sponsor Frank Nicholson.


Overall, completing my internship was not difficult, but I did encounter two difficulties. First, I had some difficulty locating reliable maps for Gose and Blalock water districts. Further, I also had difficulty reaching ID return locations to Mill Creek, because there was no available literature and the water district managers had little knowledge of the locations. I also could not walk the entire length of Mill Creek and visually locate, because the walk was treacherous and many times went through private land. I ended up marking all the locations known by the water district managers and then going door to door for permission and information on ID returns locations.

Time Commitment

The time commitment for this internship has been variable. As I stated above, time commitment has ranged from 1 to 3 hours per week. Normally, the time commitment was not chunked, but scattered in fifteen minutes to an hour junks.


I see the benefit to having an internship. Many times class can get depressing if day after day we learn about one problem after another. It is nice to get out and be pro-active. But I recommend instead of the internship being a component of the class, it should be a separate credit taken in conjunction with the class. The internship for Environmental Studies functions much like a laboratory for Chemistry or Physics and requires the same time commitment. I also think separating it from the class will give the internship the prominent position it deserves.

Further, I strongly recommend students continue to intern with the city of Walla Walla. I know some internships have turned out to be far more clerical and not field based, but internships through the city of Walla Walla are not in any way clerical. Plus, in my area of study, there is far more work to be done, far more interns need. First, exact flows should be measured from May to the end of October from the water treatment plant, from the pipes exiting into Mill Creek, from ID ditches into Doan creek and Blalock lake, and where Coal and Doan creeks enter mill creek. Also, at these locations water pollutants including fertilizers, excess soil, pesticides, heat, and chlorine (put in by the Water Treatment Plant) should be tested. Finally, my land use figures are qualitative and not quantitative. In further studies, exact land use will be extremely helpful in diagramming pollutant sources.

Key Contacts

Thomas, Hal
City of Walla Walla
Public Works Director

Nicholson, Frank P.E.
City of Walla Walla
Utility Engineer
Service Center
55 Moore PO Box 478
Walla Walla, WA 99362-0216
(509) 527-4537

William Breshears (Willy)
OMI, Inc.
Project Manager
572 Hatch Street
Walla Walla, WA 99362-5501
Tel (509) 527-4509

Frank Locati
Gose Irrigation District Manager
Cell (509) 529-5263
Work (509) 529-5263

Virgil Trick
Blalock Irrigation District Manager
(509) 529-1088

Bill Neve
Regional Watermaster, Water Resources Program, Eastern Region
Department of Ecology
1815 Portland Ave, Ste. 1
Walla Walla, WA 99362
Office: (509) 527-45646

Bob Meyer
Us Army Corps of Engineers
Walla Walla District
201 North Third Ave.
(509) 527-7627