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Cully Hession, P.E.

  • Research areas: Stream channel structure and sediment dynamics, influence of human activities on streams, techniques for measuring and improving in-stream habitat, and development of technologies and strategies for successful stream restoration


Ph.D., Biosystems Engineering, Oklahoma State University, 1995

M.S., Agricultural Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1988

B.S., Agricultural Engineering, Virginia Tech, 1984


Professional Engineer, Virginia (License No. 0402022816)


2012-Present - Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

2005-2012 - Associate Professor, Biological Systems Engineering, Virginia Tech

1999-2005 - Assistant and Associate Professor, Civil and Environmental Engineering, University of Vermont

1995-1999 - Assistant Curator and Biosystems Engineering Section Leader, Patrick Center for Environmental Research, Academy of Natural Sciences of Philadelphia

1992-1995 - Doctoral Candidate and Research Engineer, Biosystems Engineering, Oklahoma State University

1989-1992 - Senior Environmental Engineer and NPS Modeling Coordinator, Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation

1986-1989 - Assistant Scientist, USDA-Agricultural Research Service (Morris, MN)

Selected Major Awards

  • 2006 BSE Faculty of the Year, Alpha Epsilon Honor Society, Virginia Tech
  • 2002 Fellowship, ASCE EXCEED Teaching Workshop
  • 2001 Water Resources Association of PA, Achievement Award, Schuylkill River Watershed Plan
  • 2000 Trailblazer, American Society of Agricultural Engineering, Discover Magazine
  • 1996 Patrick Center Excellence in Program Development, Academy of Natural Sciences

Courses Taught Last Five Years

  • BSE 3144 - Engineering Analysis for Biological Systems
  • BSE 4344/5344 - GIS for Engineers/Applied GIS
  • BSE 5354 - Nonpoint Source Pollution Modeling
  • BSE 5404 - Agricultural Nonpoint Source Pollution
  • BSE 5984 - Stream Restoration

Other Teaching and Advising

I encourage faculty from across campus to utilize the StREAM (Stream Research, Education, and Management) Lab for courses. More than 14 classes in 4 colleges have utilized the StREAM Lab for labs and projects. In addition, now that StREAM Lab monitoring data are available online, additional courses will be able to utilize that data for more engaging, real-world homework assignments. In addition, I am the lead PI for a recently-awarded NSF-REU proposal, “Dynamics of Water and Societal Systems – An Interdisciplinary Research Program at the Virginia Tech StREAM Lab,” which involves 14 faculty from 5 colleges and 10 departments who will mentor undergraduates conducting interdisciplinary research at the StREAM Lab.

As BSE Graduate Program Director (GPD) I serve on committees in two colleges (CALS and COE) and the Graduate School. Since becoming GPD, BSE graduate enrollment has increased from less than 40 to nearly 70 students. I do not claim sole credit for this increase, but I have improved our application review process, and have obtained over $50k in funds from COE and CALS for graduate recruitment and improving working conditions for current graduate students. I am also faculty advisor for the BSE Graduate Student Organization (GSO), which was founded with my encouragement.

Program Focus

Sustainable management of water resources is a key global challenge for the 21st century. Maintaining sustainable water supplies to support economic growth, while minimizing the negative effects on water quality, requires an understanding of the underlying processes, mechanisms, and feedback loops within watersheds. I have established a multi-department, multi-college research, outreach, and education program focused on understanding the fundamental physical processes of streams. Research emphases include channel structure and sediment dynamics, analysis and prediction of the influence of human activities on streams, evaluation of techniques for measuring and improving in-stream habitat, and development of technologies and strategies for successful stream restoration.

A significant accomplishment has been development of the StREAM Lab at Virginia Tech. The StREAM Lab, along 2.1-km of Stroubles Creek adjacent to campus, is a full-scale stream lab equipped with high-resolution hydrologic monitoring capabilities for studying hydrologic, geomorphic, biogeochemical, ecological, and societal questions related to the restoration of streams and their watersheds.

Current Projects

  • Hession, Krometis. 2012-14. Dynamics of Water and Societal Systems – An Interdisciplinary Research Program at the Virginia Tech StREAM Lab. NSF-EEC.
    Our NSF-Research Experience for Undergraduates (REU) site will provide students with an unique interdisciplinary research experience within an urbanizing watershed system in southwestern Virginia. Virginia Tech’s StREAM Lab will serve as the focal point for several interconnected group research projects dealing with issues of water sustainability and environmental stewardship. The Town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech’s campus are the primary upland sources of pollutant loadings to this otherwise largely forested and agricultural receiving water, providing students with the opportunity to directly observe the effects of urban stormwater on stream hydrology and water quality. Fellows will be encouraged to develop critical thinking and communication skills through a series of “Society and Science” evening lectures and discussions, and through the guided design of outreach activities intended to engage minority grade school students in summer science camps.
  • Hession, Benham, Scott. 2011-12. Impact of Conservation Practices on Nutrient Transport and Fate in Pasture Systems. USDA-ARS.
    Our goal is to evaluate effects of conservation practices on nutrient transport and fate in pasture systems. This research will be conducted initially at the Prices Fork Research Farm (PFRF) where we will bring reinstitute monitoring of three historical small watersheds in order to evaluate the water quality and quantity impacts of “mob” grazing as opposed to typical rotational and continuous grazing techniques.
  • Hession, Lohani. 2011-12. Stroubles Creek Place-Based Laboratory for Research, Education, and Outreach @ Virginia Tech. VT-ICTAS.
    The StREAM Lab is being developed by faculty members from Biological Systems Engineering (Hession, Scott, Wynn, Krometis, Benham), VWRRC (McGuire, Schoenholtz), and Civil and Environmental Engineering (Hester) and is located downstream of the Virginia Tech Duck Pond, while the LabVIEW Enabled Watershed Assessment System (LEWAS) is being developed under the direction of Dr. Vinod K Lohani in the Department of Engineering Education and is currently located just upstream from the Duck Pond on Webb Branch with the possibility of future expansion. Both of these laboratories are being developed to sense and transmit real-time water and weather data using sensors and wireless communications technology. To date these two efforts have been developed separately, and we feel a collaborative effort would greatly enhance both laboratories and set us up to attract additional, large-scale research, education, and outreach funds
  • McGuire, Hession. 2010-12. Sediment Source Tracking Study Using Tracers. Canaan Valley Institute/USDA-ARS.
    Stream restoration through the construction of in-stream structures, bank re-grading and vegetation planting, and fencing of riparian areas is occurring at an increasing rate throughout the mid-Atlantic highlands and Chesapeake Bay Watershed (CBW). For example, past programs in the CBW have spent millions of dollars in planting many miles of riparian forests along streams within the CBW alone. Despite these riparian plantings, reductions in sedimentation have been difficult to quantify. Stream restoration projects are expected to reduce sedimentation. However, tools to quantify sediment reduction especially to distinguish between bank and upland sediment loading are lacking. This study will determine the relative contribution of bank versus upland sediment sources as well as from specific bank restoration treatments to total stream sediment flux through the use of rare earth element (REE) and cesium-137 tracers. This work will inform the efficient utilization of restoration resources and help delineate sediment sources and quantify reduction from projects that are local in nature compared to the scale of downstream waterways such as the Chesapeake Bay.

Selected Recent Publications

(* undergraduate student, ** graduate student, *** post-doc)

  • Abel, S.*, L.C. Hopkinson, and W.C. Hession (2016), Hydraulic and physical structure of runs and glides following stream restoration, River Research and Applications, 32(9):1890-1901 DOI: 10.1002/rra.3039
  • Polys, N.F., P. Sforza, W.C. Hession, and J. Munsell (2016), Extensible experiences: Fusality for stream and field, Web3D ‘16, Proceedings of the 21st International Conference on Web3D Technology, 179-180. DOI: 10.1145/2945292.2945320
  • Brown, K.R.*, K.J. McGuire, W.C. Hession, and W.M. Aust (2016), Can the Water Erosion Prediction Project model be used to estimate best management practice effectiveness from forest roads? Journal of Forestry, 114(1), 17-26. DOI: 10.5849/jof.14-101
  • Ludwig, A.L.*, and W.C. Hession (2015), Groundwater influence on water budget of a small constructed floodplain wetland in the Ridge and Valley of Virginia, USA, Journal of Hydrology: Regional Studies, 4, 699-712.
  • Jones, C.N*, D.T. Scott, C. Guth*, E.T. Hester, and W.C. Hession (2015), Seasonal variation in floodplain biogeochemical processing in a restored headwater stream, Environmental Science & Technology, 49, 13190-13198.
  • Liao, H.*, L.H. Krometis, W.C. Hession, R. Benitez**, R. Sawyer**, E. Schaberg**, E. Wagoner**, and B.D. Badgley (2015), Storm loads of culturable and molecular fecal indicators in an inland urban stream, Science of the Total Environment, 530-531, 347-356.
  • Hofmeister, K.L.**, C.M. Cianfrani, and W.C. Hession (2015), Complexities in the stream temperature regime of a small mixed-use watershed, Blacksburg, VA, Ecological Engineering, 78, 101-111.
  • Liao, H.*, L.H. Krometis, W.C. Hession, L.L. House, K. Kline, and B.D. Badgley (2014), Hydrometeorological and physicochemical drivers of fecal indicator bacteria in urban stream bottom sediments, Journal of Environmental Quality, 43, 2034–2043.
  • Resop J.*, W.C. Hession, and T. Thompson. (2014), Quantifying the parameter uncertainty in the cross-sectional dimensions for a stream restoration design of a gravel-bed stream, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 69(4), 306-315.
  • Azinheira, D.*, W.C. Hession, D. Scott, and E. Hester (2014), Complementary effects of inset floodplains and hyporheic exchange induced by in-stream structures on solute retention. Water Resources Research, 50. doi:10.1022/2013WR-14400.
  • Fahrenfeld N., K. Knowlton, L.A. Krometis, W.C. Hession, K. Xia, E. Lipscomb*, K.B. Libuit**, K.B. Green**, and A. Pruden-Bagchi (2014), Effect of manure application on abundance of antibiotic resistance genes and their attenuation rates in soil: Field-scale mass balance approach. Environmental Science & Technology. doi: 10.1021/es404988k
  • Brown, K.R.*, K.J. McGuire, W.M. Aust, W.C. Hession, and C.A. Dolloff (2014), The effect of increasing gravel cover on forest roads for reduced sediment delivery to stream crossings, Hydrological Processes, 29, 1129-1140.
  • Curran, J.C., and W.C. Hession (2013). Vegetation impacts on hydraulics and sediment processes across the fluvial system. Journal of Hydrology, 505, 364-376.
  • Hession, W.C., and J.C. Curran (2013). The impacts of vegetation on roughness in fluvial systems. In: Shroder, J. (Editor in Chief), Butler, D.R., Hupp, C.R. (Eds.), Treatise on Geomorphology. Academic Press, San Diego, CA, vol. 12, Ecogeomorphology, pp. 75–93.
  • Cianfrani*, C., S.M.P. Sullivan*, W.C. Hession, and M.C. Watzin (2012), A multitaxonomic approach to understanding local- versus watershed-scale influences on stream biota in the Lake Champlain Basin, Vermont, River Research and Applications, 28, 973-988.
  • Resop**, J.P., J.L. Kozarek**, and W.C. Hession (in press), Terrestrial laser scanning for delineating in-stream boulders and quantifying habitat complexity measures, Photogrammetric Engineering and Remote Sensing.
  • Hession, W.C., and J.C. Curran (in press), Impact of vegetation on roughness in fluvial systems, in Treatise on Geomorphology, 12(8) Ecogeomorphology, D. Butler and C. Hupp (eds).
  • Rosenquist**, S.E., C.L. Levy*, S.T. Sell*, W.C. Hession, M.J. Eick, and D.H. Vaughan (in press), Facilitated iron reduction as a means of rejuvenating phosphorus removal performance of filtration substrates,Transactions ASABE.
  • Cianfrani**, C., S.M.P. Sullivan**, W.C. Hession and M.C. Watzin (2011), A multitaxonomic approach to understanding local- versus watershed-scale influences on stream biota in the Lake Champlain Basin, Vermont, River Research and Applications. Published online ( DOI: 10.1002/rra.1470
  • Rosenquist**, S.E., W.C. Hession, M.J. Eick, and D.H. Vaughan (2011), Field application of a renewable constructed wetland substrate for phosphorus removal, Journal of American Water Resources Association, 47(4), 800-812.
  • Hession, W.C., T.M. Wynn, J.C. Curran, and L.M. Resler (2010), Preface: Geomorphology and vegetation: Interactions, dependencies, and feedback loops, Geomorphology, 116, 203–205.
  • McBride**, M., W.C. Hession, and D.M. Rizzo (2010), Riparian reforestation and channel change: How long does it take?Geomorphology 116, 330-340.
  • Kozarek**, J.S., W.C. Hession, C.A. Dolloff, and P. Diplas (2010), Hydraulic complexity metrics for evaluating in-stream brook trout habitat, Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 136(12), 1067-1076.
  • Resop**, J.P., and W.C. Hession (2010), Terrestrial laser scanning for monitoring streambank retreat: A comparison with traditional surveying techniques, Journal of Hydraulic Engineering, 136(10), 794-798.
  • Rosenquist**, S.E., W.C. Hession, M.J. Eick, and D.H. Vaughan (2010), Variability in adsorptive phosphorus removal by structural stormwater best management practices, Journal of Ecological Engineering, 36, 664–671.
  • Wenger, S.J., A.H. Roy, C.R. Jackson, E.S. Bernhardt, T.L. Carter, S. Filoso, C.A. Gibson, N.B. Grimm, W.C. Hession, S.S. Kaushal, E. Martí, J.L. Meyer, M.A. Palmer, M.J. Paul, A.H. Purcell, A. Ramirez, A.D. Rosemond, K.A. Schofield, T.R. Schueler, E.B. Sudduth, and C.J. Walsh (2009), Twenty-six key research questions in urban stream ecology: an assessment of the state of the science, Journal of the North American Benthological Society, 28(4), 1080–1098.
  • Cianfrani**, C., S.M.P. Sullivan, W.C. Hession and M.C. Watzin (2009), Mixed channel morphologies: Implications for fish community diversity, Aquatic Conservation, 19, 147–156.
  • Ranganath**, S.C., W.C. Hession, and T.M. Wynn (2009), Livestock exclusion influences on riparian vegetation, channel morphology, and benthic macroinvertebrate assemblages, Journal of Soil and Water Conservation, 64, 33-42.
  • McBride**, M., W.C. Hession, and D.M. Rizzo (2008), Riparian reforestation and channel change: A case study of two small tributaries to Sleepers River, northeastern Vermont, USA, Geomorphology, 102, 445–459.
  • Clark**, J.C., D.M. Rizzo, M.C. Watzin, and W.C. Hession (2008), Spatial distribution and geomorphic condition of fish habitat in streams: An analysis using hydraulic modeling and geostatistics, River Research and Applications, 24, 885-899.
  • Horwitz, R.J., T.E. Johnson, P.F. Overbeck, T.K. O’Donnell, W.C. Hession and B.W. Sweeney (2008), Effects of riparian vegetation and watershed urbanization on fishes in piedmont streams (PA, DE and MD, USA), Journal of the American Water Resources Association, 44(3), 724-741.
  • McBride**, M., W.C. Hession, D.M. Rizzo, D. Thompson (2007), The influence of riparian vegetation on near-bank turbulence: A flume experiment, Earth Surface Processes and Landforms, 32, 2019–2037.

Selected Recent Funding

  • Taylor, Hession, Biebighauser. 2016-17. Restoring Wetlands for Education and Conservation at the Catawba Sustainability Center. $15,000. Dominion Foundation.
  • Kochersberger, Hession, Grisso, Ogejo, Flessner. 2017-18. Image Analysis of Cropland for Enhanced Production – Phase II. $135,000. E.I. DuPont De Nemours Co.
  • Pruden, Knowlton, Ponder, Xia, Hession, Krometis, Archibald, Vallotton. 2015-17. Identification and Management of Critical Control Points in the Spread of Antibiotic Resistance from Animal Manure to Raw Produce. $2,250,000. USDA-AFRI.
  • Stewart, Xia, Hession. 2015-17. The Environmental Fate and Transport of Neonicotinoid Insecticides. $120,000. VT-ICTAS.
  • Hession, Brown. 2015-16. Evaluation of Metrics for Assessing Stream Restoration Success and Failure in Mined Areas. $60,000. ARIES.
  • Polys, Hession, Kim, Munsell, Nease, Scott. Sforza. 2015-16. Fusality for StREAM and Field. VT-ICAT-SEAD.
  • Hession, Krometis. 2012-14. REU Site: Dynamics of Water and Societal Systems – An Interdisciplinary Research Program at the Virginia Tech StREAM Lab. $314,289. NSF-EEC.
  • Hession, Benham, Scott. 2011-12. Impact of Conservation Practices on Nutrient Transport and Fate in Pasture Systems. $51,500. USDA-ARS.
  • Hession, Lohani. 2011-12. Stroubles Creek Place-Based Laboratory for Research, Education, and Outreach @ Virginia Tech. $60,000. VT-ICTAS.
  • Hopkinson, Hession. 2011-12. Research in the Stream Research, Education, and Management (StREAM) Laboratory. $15,000. West Virginia Univ. Advance Program.
  • Hester, Hession. 2011-12. Helping Streams Help Themselves: Developing a Sustainable Water Pollution Mitigation Technique. $46,555. VT-ICTAS.
  • McGuire, Hession. 2010-12. Sediment Source Tracking Study Using Tracers. $74,835. Canaan Valley Institute/USDA-ARS.
  • Hession, Benham, Daniels, Evanylo, Krometis, Scott, Wynn, Hester, McGuire, Aust. 2010-11. StREAM Laboratory. $43,327. VT-CALS Integrated Grant Competition.
  • Hession, Wynn, Resler. 2009-10. Geomorphology and Vegetation: Interactions, Dependencies, and Feedback Loops - 40th Annual Binghamton Geomorphology Symposium. $29,684. National Science Foundation.
  • Hession, Matlock. 2009-10. Water Use in Global Corn Production – Phase 2: Index Development. $100,000. National Corn Growers Association.
  • Hession, Novak, Sinha. 2009-10. Sustainable Water Development. $150,000. VT-ICTAS.
  • Wynn, Hession, Yagow. 2007-10. Stroubles Creek Stream Restoration. $167,200. Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation.
  • Heatwole, Benham, Hession, Wolfe, Stephenson. 2006-10. Effective Strategies for Reducing Nutrient Loads from the Opequon Creek Watershed of Virginia and West Virginia. $1,000,000. Natl. Fish & Wildlife Foundation.
  • Hession. 2007-11. Complex Systems Modeling for Environmental Problem Solving. $45,690. NSF-EPSCoR (sub-award from University of Vermont).
  • Yagow, Hession, Wynn. 2007-08. Developing Strategies for Urban Channel Erosion Quantification in Upland Coastal Zone Streams. $87,000. VA-Dept. Environ. Qual.