Exploring the USACE Walla Walla District: An Engineering Student’s Journey

Walla Walla District Corps of Engineers
Published Sept. 20, 2022
CDT Marsh measures a Salmon in the Adult Fish Facility at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

CDT Marsh measures a Salmon in the Adult Fish Facility at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

CDT Marsh directs Salmon in the Adult Fish Facility at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

CDT Marsh directs Salmon in the Adult Fish Facility at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

CDT Marsh inside Lower Granite Lock and Dam's Powerhouse.

CDT Marsh inside Lower Granite Lock and Dam's Powerhouse.

Capt. Jack and CDT Marsh at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

Capt. Jack and CDT Marsh at Lower Granite Lock and Dam.

“I’ve always thought that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was all about hydropower. I didn’t think there was too much to it.”

That’s what 21-year-old Cadet Joseph Marsh said before his time at the Walla Walla District. Marsh is a senior studying civil engineering at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont.

Born and raised in the Tri-Cities area, Marsh heard about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ work with dams and hydropower. This knowledge stimulated his interest in pursuing civil engineering after graduating high school.

“I’ve always been interested in the projects and dams in the area and how they work, but I didn’t know much about it,” Marsh said.

After completing his junior year in college, Marsh returned home for the summer, and wanted to make the most of his time. His continued interest in engineering prompted him to reach out to the Deputy Commander of the Walla Walla District, Major Wallace Bandeff.

Because Marsh was enlisted in a senior military college and had asked to volunteer his time at the Walla Walla District, Bandeff connected him to Captain Jack Marquez, a water manager for the Walla Walla District, for a month-long job shadowing opportunity.

Marsh began his time with the district in May, volunteering 40 hours a week. Marsh was involved in the Water Management department during his time with the Walla Walla District. He learned how the U.S Army Corps of Engineers reduces flood risk, serves as stewards of water resources, and about fish passage systems.

“There is so much that is going on,” Marsh said.

Marsh observed how engineers conduct periodic forecasting, creating short- or long-term projections of the amount of water flowing to and from a reservoir, based on a wide range of calculations. Forecasting helps water managers operate projects correctly and accommodate the water flowing downstream, for example, whether to allow water to fill the reservoir in preparation for a drought season or prepare space in the reservoir to accommodate incoming high-water flows.

“Being here, I am a lot more knowledgeable on how these projects function,” Marsh said.

During his month with the district, Marsh visited four out of the nine Walla Walla District projects, including the Jackson Hole levee system in Jackson, Wyoming; Dworshak Dam near Orofino, Idaho; Lower Granite Lock and Dam near Clarkston, Washington and the Mill Creek project in Walla Walla, Washington.

One of the most memorable projects he visited was Lower Granite Lock and Dam. “At Lower Granite they do a lot of analysis on fish. For adult fish, they take each of them at the adult fish facilities and put tags on every single one of them, analyzing for any injuries and diseases,” Marsh said. “They make sure juveniles are getting to pass all the dams. They put them on the barges and take them all the way downstream. That increases the survival rate of juvenile fish.”

After volunteering for the Walla Walla District, Marsh went on to attend Fort Nocks for advance camp (38 days), followed by a Cadet Troop Leader Training (CTLT) in Hawaii.

Marsh has stated his interest in continuing to work for the Walla Walla District during his active-duty service. He has expressed his desire to serve as a steward of water resources for the Snake River Basin and the Nation.

For future students who are interested in learning about the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Marsh says, “I recommend they go on an in-depth tour of a project to see for themselves how much is actually going on.”