Historical Analysis of salmonid habitat
in the Walla Walla Subbasin
for The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
The anadromous fish populations in the Walla Walla Subbasin are spring Chinook, Bull Trout, and summer Steelhead. Though these runs were vibrant and flourishing when settlers arrived in the Walla Walla Valley, currently the runs are almost nonexistent and fish struggle through many obstacles each year to return to their spawning grounds. The Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation have reserved fishing rights, which ensures the Tribes’ access to fish. However, these rights were recognized in the late 1800’s when salmonids were still vibrant elements of the Walla Walla River ecosystem. There is a critical need to restore these runs to historic, or at least levels elevated from today’s numbers. The CTUIR in conjunction with conservation and planning groups in the Walla Walla Valley are working together to find ways to identify accurate historical conditions of the river and its fish runs, and to restore the river to a state more conducive for future healthy populations of anadromous fish. My sponsor and contact for the internship was Jesse Schwartz, who represents the CTUIR.
Goals and Objectives:
The focus of this internship was to gather documents that can be used as sources of historic information regarding the aquatic conditions of rivers in the Walla Walla River Basin. This information will be used to update the Ecosystem Diagnostic Treatment (EDT) model. The EDT model and the information I hoped to gather can be used to contrast historical and current conditions, which will lead to the identification of the most pressing issues which need to be addressed when restoration plans are created, or updated, for these streams and rivers.
My main goal was to compile numerous documents that could be incorporated into the EDT model to validate the existing (unregistered) data entered in the model, and which can also be used as sources of information for future restoration projects. To accomplish this, I set out to identify sources of historical information, pull out the important data, cite the sources in the EDT model, and compile these references into one database.
What I accomplished:
My internship got off to a slow start, which limited the amount of time that I was able to put into research. Because my main goal for this internship was to validate or repudiate historical conditions of the Walla Walla subbasin in regard to salmon populations, I was required to have an extensive understanding of not only the methods used to reach current conclusions of the conditions of the watershed, but also the types of data that are needed to adequately complete the model. Due to the fact that I did not possess such knowledge, the first few weeks of my internship were spent reading hundreds of pages of documents, such as the EDT user’s manual, and the Walla Walla Subbasin Plan. Although this was tedious and not always thrilling work, it gave me a more concrete idea of the conditions of the local rivers, and the areas that need to be focused on for restoration (and therefore need to have comprehensive historical information on record).
Once I managed to get all of the background reading out of the way, I was able to truly start my research. I began at the Whitman Archives at Penrose Library. Janet Mallen, the Archives Assistant, was essential in finding a place to begin my research. The Whitman Archives has a wide variety of historical documents. Some of the collections are well sorted and the content is well known, while others are disorganized and unexplored. For this reason, I believe that there is potentially a great deal of useful information in the Archives that I was unable to find. However, I got a good start with the collections that are easily accessible and known to Janet.
One important source of information that I found were maps. The Archives has collections of maps from the United States Geological Survey and the US Army Corp of Engineers that date back into the beginning of the 20th century. Examples of maps that I discovered are as follows:
-“Plan and Profile of the Walla Walla River above Freewater, Oregon including the North and South Forks. Miscellaneous dam sites.”
Created by the USGS, this map was surveyed by Arthur Johnson and WLG Senkpiel in 1931 and 1932. This map shows cross-sections of the Walla Walla River at specific sites, and with the topography and scale, it is possible to create an accurate image of what the stream bed looked like.
The Whitman Archives only has sheet C of this series, so I spent a great deal of time tracking down the other sheets. The USGS does not archive their documents reliably that far back, so it was necessary for me to look for the maps through Summit. Although I found three libraries that do have the complete set, I spent hours on the phone and contacting librarians and still do not have the maps in my possession.
-Army Corps of Engineer maps dated from 1905-1906.
These maps, which are Flood Control Surveys, follow the Walla Walla River and detail the relief and land use adjacent to the river (crops, pasture, native plants, gardens, etc.).
Other collections of interest that I found at the Whitman Archives include:
-The Harlow Barney Collection:
Harlow Barney was the Walla Walla County Watermaster for a number of years, and collected documents related to stream flows, channels, water rights, and legal issues concerning local water law.
The Harlow Barney Collection contains a document with information on stream flows for Cold Creek, Mill Creek, the Walla Walla River, and the little Walla Walla River for various dates in 1929. It also includes a map called “State of Washington, Department of Conservation and Development. Map of lands involved in the adjucation of rights in the Walla Walla River from an unknown year. This map outlines the course of the main streams and rivers that are tributaries and distributaries of the Walla Walla. If it can be dated and it is previous to the dams and channelization of many of the streams, it could be valuable in piecing together the natural flow of the local rivers.
These survey books date from the 1890’s to as late as the 1970’s. They include sketches of local creeks with measurements of width, bulkheads, embankment size, and other pieces of data sprinkled throughout the books. Although the course of the stream could be very accurately determined, due to the high number of measurements taken on angle and length of stream reaches, the books may be difficult to obtain useful information from due to the fact that they are very confusing. Some of the streams are unidentified, while the information on the known streams still may unusable due to difficulties in figuring out exactly what river mile is represented by each of these directions.
This internship ended up being a great learning experience for me. Although I did not accomplish as much as I anticipated in terms of a final product, I learned an incredible amount, not only about the Walla Walla Valley but also about the obstacles and rewards that come with research.
One of the greatest pitfalls of this internship was not getting started at the very beginning of the semester. Although this was due to forces beyond anyone’s control, it ended up severely limiting the amount of time I was able to spend on research. The research itself was where a huge amount of learning and exercised patience occurred. I learned how tedious and time consuming it is to sort through hundreds of pages of documents looking for very specific information, and how frustrating it can be to do hours of research without uncovering a single usable document. Additionally, it is incredibly hard to gets your hands on historical documents that are held at other facilities. I spent hours on the phone and online trying to work my way through the maze of libraries and librarians in attempt to order maps.
Although the list of documents that I have compiled is much smaller than I had hoped it would be, I think that some of the information can be cited in the EDT model. For any potential intern that comes after me, the job has become a little less confusing. At the beginning of the internship I had no concept of even how to start looking for documents that may have been of some use. Having examples on hand for future researches will be clarifying and may allow them to start researching even before they finish reading the supporting documents that are very long, but necessary to have a complete understanding of what is trying to be accomplished through the research.
I think that this internship was excellent in providing me with an
example of how much time and energy has to be put into every step of creating
a working document. I think that it is very important to have a concept of this,
not only from a standpoint of giving importance and validity to things that
are thoroughly and accurately completed, but also because I think that there
is a likelihood that someday would like to have a career that focuses on hydrology
issues, specifically management and restoration, and so this internship was
a great introduction into the commitment, drive, and struggle that it takes
to create documents such as the Walla Walla Subbasin Plan.
Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation
Archives Assistant, Whitman College Archives
US Geological Survey Libraries
University of Oregon Archives and Special Collections
University of Washington Archives