Join International Development Discussion on February 20 During Engineers Week

On February 20 at Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle, join Aspect's Principal Geologist Dave Cook and other panelists for an Engineers Without Borders-hosted panel discussion on the role of engineering in international development. 

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If you are interested in international development and want to use your engineering skills to make a positive impact, please consider joining us. Our panel will consist of speakers from the following non-profit organizations that are devoted to using the tools of engineering, planning, and design in order to build a better world.

  • Engineers Without Borders USA (Represented by Dave Cook): In the world's toughest places, EWB-USA is partnering with communities at home and around the world to meet their basic human needs through sustainable engineering projects. A dynamic organization with over 16,000 members nationwide, Dave Cook has served as the President and on the Board of Directors for EWB-USA in year's past.  
  • Construction for Change (Represented by Kevin Hunter): Construction for Change (CFC) builds spaces where people struggling with oppression can become healthier, learn, and increase their economic mobility. They partner with organizations that provide life-changing resources but have outgrown their facilities or seek to expand the service they offer. Mr. Hunter has been Executive Director of CFC since November 2016, leading the organization to develop a sustainable and scalable model to expand the reach of the organization around the globe, and his previous experience includes leadership roles with Young Life, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity. 
  • Kilowatts for Humanity (Represented by Kirk MacLearnsberry): Kilowatts for Humanity (KWH) was founded in 2014 as an organization centered around an electrical engineering project for a hybrid wind/solar/storage system in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. The organization has since expanded to several major international solar project initiatives, with the goal of providing access to sustainable electricity in energy impoverished areas. Kirk MacLearnsberry has been a member of the design team since 2015 and was involved as the engineering lead on last summer's implementation trip to construct a local solar/storage kiosk in Munyama, Zambia. 
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Meet new members, newtwork with fellow engineers and planners, and learn about EWB! More information about the February 20 event at Pyramid Ale at 6:30 pm.

What the Hirst “Fix” Signals for WA's Rural Water Users and Managers

Last month, after months of delay that even stopped Washington state’s capital budget from passing, the Washington State House and Senate passed ESSB 6091 to address legal water availability issues for exempt well users stemming from the landmark Whatcom County v. Hirst case. Because of the complexity of implementing the new law, it is too soon to know all of the consequences of this proposed fix. However, here are several early takeaways:

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What it means

  • In many, but not all, areas of the state, the new law allows building permits relying on exempt wells in areas with instream flows to be approved by local jurisdictions without reviewing each case for impairment considerations.
  • Overall impairment to instream flows caused collectively by new exempt wells is to be addressed through restarting the watershed planning process in Water Resource Inventory Areas (WRIAs) with no adopted Watershed Plan, or through an update of existing adopted Watershed Plans.  
  • Plan recommendations to improve streamflows may include, among other options, acquiring senior water rights, water conservation, water reuse, off-channel storage, and aquifer recharge. 
  • Several watersheds were specifically excluded from the law based on other regulatory considerations, including:
    • Watersheds with instream flow rules that explicitly regulate exempt wells and provide for reserves, such as the Stillaguamish, Methow, and Wenatchee basins. These watersheds must rely on the finite reserves of water already allocated.
    • Federally regulated watersheds (Yakima basin).

How we got here

Under existing state law (RCW 90.44.050), the groundwater permit exemption allows, for a limited number of purposes, water users to construct and develop groundwater wells for small quantities of groundwater without obtaining a permit. In October of 2016, in a landmark decision on the use of exempt wells and county responsibility for evaluating impacts from the wells on instream flows, the Washington Supreme Court (Court) ruled in the Whatcom County v. Hirst case that the Growth Management Act (GMA) placed an independent responsibility to ensure water availability on counties, not on Ecology. Counties across the state had varying responses to the decision, with some placing a moratorium on granting building permits relying on unmitigated exempt wells, others including disclaimers on proof of legal water availability, and others taking a wait and see approach.

New $500 fee and new Exempt Well Use Limitations

The new Bill 6091 requires a new $500 fee to be paid as part of obtaining a building permit relying on an exempt well, to support watershed planning efforts.  In basins with adopted Watershed Plans, the law allows an exempt well to use a maximum average of 3,000 gallons per day, while in basins with no watershed plan, a limitation of 950 gallons per day is imposed.

Understanding of Bill 6091 Still Evolving

The Washington Department of Ecology is responsible for implementing ESSB 6091, and is still formulating relevant policy. As general understanding and consensus evolves, Aspect will continue to comment on this for clients.

The following link provides the Washington Department of Ecology’s Initial Policy Interpretations on ESSB 6091:https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/wrx/wrx/fsvr/ecylcyfsvrxfile/WaterRights/wrwebpdf/6091-EcologyPolicyInterpretations.pdf

The following link provides the Hirst Supreme Court Decision:https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/wrx/wrx/fsvr/ecylcyfsvrxfile/WaterRights/wrwebpdf/91475-3opinion.pdf

Progress at the City of Bellingham's Waypoint Park

That’s some nice looking beach gravel! Aspect has been helping with geotechnical engineering and construction monitoring for the City of Bellingham’s Waypoint Park project. When finished later this year, it will mark a new era for Bellingham’s waterfront. See the Bellingham Herald’s video below for a glimpse of the construction underway.

Aspect Staff vs. Brambles at MLK Day of Service Event

On Martin Luther King Day this week, Aspect staff took some time to participate in a Day of Service event. We joined Nature Consortium and many dozens of other volunteers in a restoration effort at Pigeon Point Park in West Seattle. We were tasked with removing invasive blackberries! The weather was great, we didn’t get scratched too badly—we did get muddy, and we made a little dent in the blackberry problem. 

Action shots from the day. Volunteers: 1 - Blackberry Brambles: 0! 
 

The Geology of Central Washington's Rattlesnake Ridge Landslide

Geology is on everyone’s mind in Yakima County as officials grapple with the ongoing Rattlesnake Ridge slide and how to help the community below it. This drone footage captures the surface features of the slide in detail. 

Given the geology of the area, Aspect’s Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack summarizes the likely forces behind the slide: “Geologic studies have shown that slides of this nature are fairly common on the flanks of the numerous anticlinal ridges in central Washington. While most are ancient and have not moved during recent history, there are examples, including the Nile Valley landslide of 2009, where old slides have reactivated, or new slides began. These slides occur where basalt flows are interbedded with sedimentary strata. While the basalt strata may be relatively strong, the sedimentary interbeds are often weathered and weak.

When the gravitational driving forces acting on these dipping strata exceed the resisting strength of the weathered sedimentary strata, they begin to slide. There are multiple factors in the delicate balance of gravitational forces versus resisting strength, including the properties of the rock, degree of weathering, groundwater levels, the geometry of the slope, etc. 

Triggers for activation of landslides can include increases in groundwater level, strong earthquake shaking, or changes in slope geometry from natural causes like river migration, or human-caused grading. Because of the multiple factors involved, teasing out the exact triggers of a slope failure can be challenging, and the expected type of failure (fast debris runout, slow creeping failure, rockfalls, etc.) difficult to predict.” 

Geologic insight will continue to be relied on as the slide keeps moving.
 

Meet Amelia Oates!

Amelia Oates recently joined Aspect’s Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know her better.

Amelia Oates, GIT - Staff Geologist

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1. Where are you from? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here?

I grew up in the town of Canandaigua, New York, more specifically, a delightful hamlet named Cheshire. I grew up at the end of a dead-end road, spending my time playing in my parents’ garden and pond. After my undergraduate studies at St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, I decided I needed a change of scenery. Along with some dear college friends, I hatched a plan about five years ago to move to Seattle, looking for opportunities in outdoor adventure and possible careers. After a few years of hiking and biking my way around western Washington, I entered graduate school at UW for applied geology. After graduating I started work as a staff geologist in Seattle and hope to take advantage of all the opportunities this industry has to offer.

2. What inspired you to pursue geology? What made you curious about it?

Growing up as an only child in western New York, I found peace and comfort in spending endless days playing outside, where my imagination was seemingly infinite.  My favorite place to pass the time was in the ravine behind my parents’ home, where Ordovician and Devonian shales layered stories of former environments and long-lost critters. Those adventures and findings of corals and concretions informed hours of intrigue for my curious brain. It wasn’t until my freshman introduction to geology course at St. Lawrence University, when we would spend five hours each week exploring the variety of terranes in the North Country, that I realized I had accidentally stumbled on a discipline that brought me back to my peaceful place and fed my curiosity for existential truth, problem solving, and dreaming of what once was. My curiosity was piqued after several field trips abroad showed me that geology is everywhere, and to be a great geologist, one needed to see as much as possible.

3. What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated?

It’s the idea that there are multiple solutions to the complex problems we discover in geology. It requires diversity of expertise, interest, and constant learning to continue to produce the best science in this field. I am continually excited to learn new techniques, use innovative technology, and apply those techniques to real examples. The prospect of staying current and using my knowledge to adapt to the environment around me is inspiring and keeps me motivated.

4. What do you like to do when you aren’t working?

I love to spend time with friends, and adventure to new places, via planes, trains, automobiles, boat, bike, or my own two feet. One of my favorite parts of traveling abroad is to indulge in the local cuisine. When I’m at home, I like to experiment with those culinary experiences and create delicious food to share with friends and family. When I’m not being active or travelling about, I love to curl up next to the fire, with a cup of tea, and a good book.   

5. What five people would be your dream dinner party guests?

I’d love to dine and discuss politics, music, culture, philosophy, and the environment with: Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Prince, Malcolm X, Marie Curie, and Vandana Shiva. 

Skagit PUD and County Explore Solutions for Legal Water Availability

The Skagit River - Photo Credit: www.rivers.gov

The Skagit River - Photo Credit: www.rivers.gov

In the face of growing development in rural areas across Washington state and limitations on legal water availability stemming from recent court decisions, public agencies like Skagit Public Utility District and Skagit County are wrestling with how to supply water to rural areas.

Potential homeowners, builders, state officials, and tribes are looking for solutions that are agreeable for the community and habitat, and that overcome legal constraints on water availability. A number of solutions are under consideration, including water banking, instream flow augmentation, and storage and release projects. Aspect is at the forefront of water banking facilitation and other rural solutions to address water availability across the state. For example, we’ve helped several private and public entities – including Kittitas and Spokane Counties -- successfully set up a water bank.

Aspect's Dan Haller and Carl Einberger are working with Skagit County PUD to evaluate what this would mean for the County and PUD. They recently joined a combined commissioner meeting with the Skagit County PUD and Skagit County to explore the concept and take questions from the Board.

See their discussion on video here.

The Columbia and Wells Dam: How the Mighty River Keeps the Lights On

Bare bulbs in wire cages light Aspect staff’s way down a flight of stairs through a damp concrete passage. One after another, we duck our heads, crawl through a water-tight steel hatch, and emerge in a cavernous chamber lit by a single halogen shop light. Our breath hangs in the cold air, and the sound of water drips from the surrounding shadows. 

Aspect staff make their way down into the basement of Wells Dam

Our guide tips back his hardhat, stares upwards, and explains that we have now descended 150 feet below the surface of the Columbia River. He points with his flashlight towards the middle of the room, to where one of Wells Dam’s Kaplan turbines—a five-bladed spinning top the size of a garbage truck—sits idle. A month from now, when this chamber is again flooded by the river, water will push against those blades, turning a shaft that will activate a generator, create a charge, and produce electricity—enough to power all the houses in the Wenatchee Valley, and then some.

The switchyard and gantry cranes along the top of Wells Dam.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Nation’s Only Hydrocombine Dam

Fifty miles downstream of Wells Dam, geologists and engineers in Aspect’s Wenatchee office regularly interact with hydropower in our week-to-week work. From evaluating utility district water rights, supporting environmental compliance at fish hatcheries, to helping clients adhere to FERC permit requirements, the influence of dams in the Northwest is far-reaching.

Aspect staff and Douglas PUD engineers explore active retrofitting operations underway for the ten generating units at Wells Dam

When Douglas County PUD offered us an invitation to visit Wells Dam, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year, Aspect Wenatchee jumped at the opportunity. 

Driving north along Highway 97 on a cold, snowy day in November, we had two things on our mind: what makes Wells unique, and what does it mean for a dam to reach this milestone? Here’s what we learned: 

  • Wells is the only dam in the U.S. designed as a hydrocombine, where the generating units, spillways, fish ladder, and switchyard are vertically stacked (as opposed to horizontally aligned). This gives the dam its compact footprint but presents certain logistical challenges for major maintenance operations. 
  • Like all Columbia River hydropower projects, Wells is a run-of-the-river dam. Reservoirs created by run-of-the-river dams have limited capacity to store water and must respond to fluctuations in seasonal river flows. For dams on the Columbia, this means that most of the available water comes from snowpack and is in greatest supply during the spring. 
  • Generating power at Wells represents a balancing act between storing and spilling water. In addition to coordinating reservoir levels with upstream and downstream dams, operators must forecast and respond to the Methow and Okanogan rivers, which eventually flow into the Columbia, all while complying with a suite of regulations for the protection of fish and wildlife, and fluctuating market demands of the regional grid.
  • Like anything that involves a complex assortment of moving parts, things inside a hydropower project eventually wear out. For Wells, turning 50 means that each of the 10 generating units is reaching its in-service design life. Work is actively underway to completely refurbish, replace, or re-machine the turbine components to extend their service life another 30 to 40 years.

We greatly appreciated the tour and getting an up-close look at one of our region’s hydroelectric projects. Happy 50th Anniversary, Wells—thanks for keeping our lights on!

Who are the scientists in your neighborhood?

Aspect outreach connects younger residents with cleanup and redevelopment work at Mt. Baker Housing Association

On a recent cloudy afternoon, about 15 kids gathered on a corner in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood to peer down a hole. The hole isn’t just any hole, it’s a groundwater monitoring well—one of 35 that Aspect is using to measure groundwater contamination levels in the area. The kids, ranging from second grade through high school, are residents of six nearby apartment buildings managed by the Mt. Baker Housing Association (MBHA). This field trip was led by Aspect’s Principal Geologist Dave Cook and Senior Geologist Jessica Smith, who have been sharing their environmental work on an innovative MBHA redevelopment project with some of the neighborhood’s younger residents through an ongoing series of visits that helps kids understand the science that will help shape the future of their neighborhood.

Located two blocks from the Mount Baker light rail station, the cleanup site has sat unused for years due to solvent-contamination from a dry cleaner and gasoline-contamination from a former gas station. Aspect is supporting a first-of-its-kind partnership between the MBHA, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Department of Ecology that will use state funds to help cover some of the costs for environmental evaluation and cleanup. With significant help from an Ecology Public Partnership Grant, MBHA plans to redevelop the five parcels of land with two new residential buildings to meet the City’s critical need for more affordable housing.

Stepping out of the Typical Cleanup Process to Invite Community into the Project

Outreach and collaboration with the area’s residents, businesses, and other stakeholders is a key part of the project. Dave and Jessica’s work puts community, education, and science into action by speaking directly to a segment of the population not usually directly engaged in these types of projects. The kids get to meet the scientists and engineers working in their neighborhood and gets to find out what’s happening, and what’s going to happen, in their own backyard.

Dave and Jessica collaborated with MBHA’s Resident Services Coordinator Sameth Mell and intern Cristina Pinho to engage with the younger members of the Mount Baker community. “After 26 years of quietly cleaning up and recycling land for better uses, I thought it was time to break out of the standard consulting role and focus on the community in a more direct way,” Dave said. “I’ve always enjoyed educating people about what we do. The science is really cool, it’s practical, very visual, and I figured kids would be totally into geology and engineering. What kid doesn’t like playing with dirt, sampling water and learning about mysteries below ground?”

An Outdoor Classroom to See the Underground Up Close

On this recent visit, Dave and Jessica met the kids inside over pizza for introductions before heading out to the corner in front of the building, where Staff Geologist Na Hyung Choi was already busy gathering samples at one of the groundwater monitoring wells. She filled sample containers with groundwater located about 15 feet below the ground surface and answered questions while Jessica and Dave explained more about her work.

Jessica said, “For me, the best part of being involved in the community outreach is being able to introduce kids to the practical aspects of science and engineering to get them excited about STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]. As we were watching Na Hyung obtain the groundwater samples, one of the fourth-grade girls asked me if she could be a Geologist or an Engineer when she grows up, to which I enthusiastically replied, ‘Of course!’ Facilitating that curiosity and excitement in these kids is what this is all about.”

Back inside, Dave and Jessica presented a video of how the well they’d just been looking at was created, showing how the hole was drilled and the soil that was unearthed from the drill. Jessica also gave a tangible explanation of just what groundwater is. Marbles in a glass represented the dirt, with a little water poured in to help them visualize how groundwater lives between the soil grains.  A bright green straw inserted into the glass stood in for the groundwater monitoring well that was installed into the soil to suck out the water.

Ongoing Outreach as Work Heads Toward 150 Units of New Housing

This visit was the second one Dave and Jessica have made since beginning their field work in mid-November. They plan to return often as the project continues, to share results from the samples Na Hyung was taking and what that data tells them about how the contaminants are behaving underground. From these data, Dave, Jessica and Ecology will develop the best plan to clean up the contaminated soil and groundwater so that construction can begin.

Cleanup and redevelopment on the MBHA project is slated to begin in 2019. Once complete, there will be an estimated 150 units of new affordable housing on the parcels. The kids Dave and Jessica have been checking in with will be able to tell their new neighbors, “Hey, I know what used to be underneath your building!” 

Announcing John Warinner and Expanded Services for Oregon Clients

Strengthening Aspect's water resources services for Oregon clients, John Warinner, PE, CWRE joins Aspect as Associate Water Resources Engineer in Bend, Oregon.  John is a water resources engineer and certified water rights examiner with over 30 years of experience in water supply, water rights, and geographic information system (GIS) projects for irrigators, public agencies, and private industry.

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John has applied his engineering and client-service skills to monitoring, assessing, design, and permitting for a variety of water system projects, including watershed; groundwater aquifers; irrigation systems; wastewater and nutrient recovery systems; and water rights. He also brings keen insight into GIS and data management.

“I’m excited to join the Aspect team and to broaden their services to Oregon clients," says John, "Aspect is an excellent earth science engineering firm that values the same innovative and practical approach to solving water resource problems that I do.” 

John will work out of Bend, supporting Aspect’s Portland office and clients as well as expanding Aspect’s capabilities for clients in central and eastern Oregon. 

As he joins Aspect, we asked John to share some thoughts on his work and consulting career:

1.    Where are you from? 
My father was an Air Force fighter pilot, so my family moved around a lot when I was young.  I was born in Charleston, SC, and we moved to Oscoda, MI when I was 10 days old.  After several more stops in California and Florida, our family first moved to the Pacific Northwest in about 1968.  We lived in Medford, OR while my father was serving in Vietnam.  When my father returned from overseas, we moved to Klamath Falls, OR.  We moved a few more times to North Dakota, Rhode Island, and Texas, before ultimately settling back in Klamath Falls for my high school and college years.  After attending college in Oregon and Texas, I returned to Portland, OR for several years, then moved to Walla Walla, WA for over two decades.  In 2013, my wife, Amy, and I moved our family to Bend, OR.  So we are approaching five years now in Bend. 

2.    What inspired/led you to pursue work in water resources? 
My interest in water resources started during high school, living on an irrigated hay-grain farm in the Klamath Basin.  My jobs on the farm included irrigation and hay harvest.  I was initially intrigued by the idea of equipping hay balers to moisten hay as it was baled, rather than having to bale the hay during the middle of the night when the dew was on it.  I also recall rafting with a friend on the Lost River and being surprised and intrigued by the geothermal springs emerging into the stream.  During my study of agricultural engineering at Oregon State University and civil (water resources) engineering at Texas A&M University, I gained a broader perspective of hydrology, hydrogeology, hydraulics, irrigation, drainage, and the more physical aspects of water systems.  During that time, my uncle, who was a physics professor at the University of Michigan, introduced me to the Environmental Defense Fund and increased my awareness of watershed ecology, water quality, water rights and allocation, and the challenges of understanding and managing water systems in various settings and at various scales.

3.    What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 
The deeper you wade into it, the more you realize that water resources is a very broad and dynamic field.  In some respects, the fundamentals seem simple and straightforward.  But there are many nuances to it.  Water systems and the associated challenges vary greatly with both place and time.  There are differences in spatial and temporal patterns from one place to another.  As they say, you never step twice into the same stream.  When you consider the human elements--population, values, interests, knowledge and awareness, expectations, laws, and policies…which also continually evolve and change--it all combines into very intriguing dynamics and associated challenges.  Each situation has its own unique fact pattern.  

4.    What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 
I most enjoy getting outdoors, including hiking, mountain climbing, fishing, boating, and mountain biking.  I am a pretty big sports fan; mostly basketball. Our youngest son, Brian, is currently a Junior in High School playing on the basketball team. We enjoy watching Brian and his teammates, as well as college and professional basketball.  I also enjoy writing poetry and making music.  As our kids grow up and move out of the house, I am interested to spend more time doing that.

5.    Where in the world would you like to travel next? 
I am pretty happy exploring the Pacific Northwest with the wilderness areas in the Cascades, the Oregon Coast, the San Juan Islands.  Most of my travel outside of the Northwest is geared toward visiting my parents and other family members in Ohio and Texas.  I would love to go back to Bowron Lakes up in British Columbia.  Perhaps South America and Machu Picchu.  Some day, I would love to spend some extended time visiting Europe.
 

Wet weather season: When the levees go to work

November is historically the wettest month of the year in western Washington. The seemingly constant mist of precipitation punctuated by storms that dump inches of rain in short amounts of time sends water levels in area rivers rising. The risk of flooding presents a critical need to protect nearby homes, businesses, and habitat. Levees a play a key role in that protection.

In the old days of flood control, a levee was typically little more than a pile of dirt. These days, they’re still dirt, but have evolved into a highly engineered, specifically designed mass, often made from less permeable soil (like clay) and designed wider at the base and narrower at the top. Levees are especially critical in floodplain areas to maintain healthy fish and riparian habitats, and of course near neighborhoods and businesses that would be vulnerable should a river top its banks.

While western Washington’s levees are working to protect their surrounding areas, Aspect is hard at work supporting several levee improvement projects in King County and beyond. Our services for recent and ongoing projects include:

Lower Russel Road Levee Setback, Kent, WA

Lower Russel Road Levee Setback, Kent, WA
Map from King County's Project Website

Lead geotechnical engineer and hydrogeologic support for Lower Russell Road Levee Setback, which is improving 1.4 miles of the flood control system along the Green River in Kent. Once completed, the project will provide greater flood protection and water conveyance capacity while improving both riparian habitat and recreational opportunities. This project is nearing the 60 percent design stage of completion, and is anticipated to be constructed by 2020. More project information and pictures can be found on King County’s project page

South Unit Shillapoo and Buckmire Slough Restoration Design, Vancouver, WA

South Unit Shillapoo and Buckmire Slough Restoration Design, Vancouver, WA
Map from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife’s project website

Geotechnical engineering and hydrogeologic efforts for the South Unit Shillapoo and Buckmire Slough Restoration Design, along the Columbia River in Vancouver, Washington. The project will improve hydrologic access to approximately 540 acres of intertidal, freshwater slough and wetland habitat. Our work first includes subsurface explorations and geotechnical design for breaching the existing levee (to clear room for the new levee); constructing three WSDOT bridges along State Route 501; flood control levee construction; roadway raises to meet 100-year flood elevations; and construction of up to 14 interior water control structures in the wetland system. You can read more about the project on the Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife’s website

Countyline Levee Setback, Pacific, WA

Environmental and geotechnical support for the Countyline Levee Setback project along the White River near Pacific, just north of the border with Pierce County. When contaminated materials were encountered during construction of the Levee Setback project, our environmental team advised the County on whether the material posed a risk to the project if left in-place, while also determining proper disposal methods. Our geotechnical engineers conducted a targeted, cost-effective investigation to study flooding during high flows and collected data to inform the levee setback design. The project was finished this fall, just in time for late October rains, and now protects 121 acres of floodplain. See an aerial video of the project below

Pacific Right Bank Project, Pacific, WA

Pacific Right Bank Project, Pacific, WA
Map from King County’s project website

In late November, Aspect will provide both geotechnical and environmental services on the Pacific Right levee setback, along the opposite site of the White River from the Countyline Levee. The project will create a setback levee between the BNSF Railway and Government Canal to significantly reduce the potential for river flooding of adjacent neighborhoods. Learn more about the project on King County’s project website. 

Countdown to the new Pier 62

Seattle’s Daily Journal of Commerce reported yesterday that construction on the city’s new Pier 62 will begin in two weeks. Once completed, this $34.8 million dollar rebuild will create a new park on the pier and reintroduce the public to this part of Elliott Bay.

Aspect helped set the foundations for this new phase of the Pier 62’s history. Read more about the construction on the Daily Journal of Commerce’s website and Aspect’s previous work on our blog

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The Beauty and Power of LiDAR in Geology

Kudos to the good people at the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR)/Washington Geological Survey for their absolutely incredible Esri Story Map, The Bare Earth.

Here at Aspect, we use regional LiDAR data treasure troves nearly every single day. From landslide hazard analysis, to stormwater infiltration feasibility, to fault identification and mapping–our team of geologists and GIS analysts are well familiar with the power of this incredible, rich data.  

However, we've never seen such a thoughtful, thorough, and beautiful presentation of LiDAR's role in geology as this. In addition to the breathtaking LiDAR visualizations, it's a wonderful example of the narrative and explanatory power of a story map

Bravo, DNR. Bravo.

...oh... and happy GIS Day/Post-GIS Day! This is a wonderful way to celebrate.

An Alternative Approach for Petroleum-Site Cleanups

With around 3,000 historical leaking underground petroleum storage tanks (USTs) and systems across Washington state, petroleum cleanup is a big issue for business owners, homeowners, and regulators. The traditional leaking UST cleanup process is typically counted in years and often stymied by the lack of available regulatory staff to handle the large volume of sites efficiently. 

To help remedy this, the state’s Pollution Liability Agency (PLIA) created a new cleanup route--the Petroleum Technical Assistance Program (PTAP)--beginning in January 2018. The PTAP program offers applicants the potential of lower cost associated with regulatory oversight and a commitment to faster turnaround times for opinions on their UST sites. Thanks to a 2017 change in state law, PLIA now has the statutory authority to provide technical oversight and write opinions--something only Ecology previously had--on UST sites, thus giving site owners and operators a new alternative to the state’s traditional Voluntary Cleanup Program (VCP) process.

With over a decade of petroleum site cleanup experience, Aspect’s Senior Engineer Eric Marhofer gives a primer on the potential PTAP has for UST owners.

What does the new PTAP Program Mean for Site Owners? 

The nuance of PLIA’s approach is to work more collaboratively with site owners--for example, they plan to hold an intake meeting at the outset upon enrollment to review the site status with the applicant and set achievable milestones. PLIA is looking to provide more certainty upfront, and quicker, more pragmatic opinions and responses throughout the process. The goal is to efficiently move sites toward a “No Further Action” determination and, ultimately, allow the owner to return their site to a business asset instead of a liability. 

Additionally, the PTAP may work more seamlessly for site owners already working in cooperation with PLIA through their Commercial Reinsurance and/or Loan and Grant programs.

There’s a number of PLIA financing and insurance options available to help UST owners and operators move their sites towards closure.

What’s the Process?

PLIA is looking to offer a streamlined application and approval process, a one-time flat fee of $7,500 for service (vs. hourly billing for review and opinions in the VCP), an intake meeting with senior technical staff to review your Site (which does not typically happen in the VCP), and faster turn-around times for written opinions (a goal of 45 days versus 90+ days with Ecology).  

PTAP’s Program begins accepting applications January 2, 2018.

Are there any risks?

Depending on how much regulatory oversight is anticipated, a flat-fee of $7,500 may not make sense for some sites. However, for more complex sites that may need multiple opinions over the life of the investigation and cleanup, that fee will likely represent a good value. 
There are also certain factors site owners will want to consider when determining whether their site qualifies for PTAP. For example, there can be no impacts to sediment or surface water and there can be no co-mingled, non-petroleum contamination. Additionally, sites facing litigation may not qualify. If the site is disqualified for one or more reasons after enrollment in PTAP, it is unclear whether the enrollment fee is refundable.

PTAP eligibility criteria.

PLIA also expects actionable steps to be taken on the part of the applicant/owners to move forward with investigations and cleanups once accepted to the program.  In other words, PLIA will not be a safe harbor for Sites to enroll to avoid Ecology enforcement but not take any actions to investigate or clean up their site.  Sites may be disqualified from the program for inactivity and the enrollment fee may not be refundable.  

Learn more here: http://plia.wa.gov/ptap/ or contact Eric at emarhofer@aspectconsulting.com.
 

Aspect Staff Volunteers Design and Muscle for new Rain Gardens at Carnation Elementary School

Over this past summer, Aspect’s Owen Reese was invited by Stewardship Partners to provide pro bono design for a pair of rain gardens at Carnation Elementary School. The project is part of a long-standing partnership between the Snoqualmie Tribe and Stewardship Partners to plant and promote native species and educate communities on water quality protection. The goal of this demonstration project is to improve infiltration, replace non-native vegetation, and create wildlife habitat. The rain gardens will infiltrate runoff from approximately 6,500 square feet of the school’s roof.  

This fall, several Aspect staff, along with volunteers from Stewardship Partners and Carnation Elementary School, gave a Saturday to prepare the rain gardens for planting by shoveling dirt to create the final shape of the rain gardens and place 4 tons of river rock to line the conveyance channels. It was great fun and a good workout!

The school kids will be planting the rain gardens in a few weeks, incorporating native plants selected by the Snoqualmie Tribe as culturally significant.

New Yakima County Utility Attempting to Balance Rural Development and Water Use

Yakima County is investing $500,000 in grant money to establish a utility it hopes will help resolve water rights and water use conflicts for new developments in rural areas of Yakima County. Aspect’s Dan Haller was asked to weigh on the current value of water rights in the region based on our work assisting Kittitas, Spokane, Chelan, Klickitat, and other counties facing similar issues.  Read the full article HERE.

Meet Caroline Van Slyke

Caroline Van Slyke recently joined Aspect's Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know her better.

    Caroline Van Slyke, Senior CAD Specialist

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    1. Where are you from?

    I hail from a small town in northeast Ohio that had one stop light. We lived on a dirt road and couldn’t see the neighbor’s house because it was too far away.  After years of high humidity, winter blizzards, and lake-effect snow, I packed everything up and headed west to the Emerald City of Seattle.  I’ve been here for almost 30 years and never tire of this beautiful state.

    2.    What inspired you to pursue CAD? What made you curious about it?

    To me, CAD wouldn’t exist if drafting never existed. One of the classes I took during my senior year in high school was a drafting class where we used pencils and T-squares because CAD did not exist.  The subject matter came very easily and as a result, I was put into a small subset of students affectionately named “All You Others” that did advanced studies while the rest of the class followed the standard curriculum.  it was so enjoyable that I decided to pursue an AA in Mechanical Engineering.

    3.    What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 

    Every day, there is something new and exciting to work on!  Over my career, I have helped engineering professionals with many different projects spanning all engineering disciplines, which affords exciting learning opportunities daily.  It’s fun to have a pulse on the Puget Sound region by way of being involved with projects in our line of work.

    4.    What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 

    I secretly rock out and play the blues on my guitar and when it’s not raining, drive my car around the track at Pacific Northwest Raceways at high velocities.  I also indulge in video games when time permits.

    5.    What is the most unusual thing in your wallet, pocket, or purse right at this moment?

    Just for conversation starters, I have a 45-rpm record adapter that I will occasionally show to a post-vinyl record era person and see if they can guess what it is.
     

    Carla Brock Appointed to Washington State Geologist Licensing Board

    Carla Brock, an Associate Geologist with Aspect, was recently appointed to the Washington State Geologist Licensing Board. The board consists of 7 members—5 licensed geologists, 1 public member, and the Department of Natural Resources’ Washington State Geologist. The board is responsible for licensing geologists within the state, investigating violations of state regulations related to the practice of geology, and recommending rules and regulations for administering licensing and regulatory laws. In addition to attending board meetings, Carla will join the other members in providing professional knowledge to improve services to geologists and the public. Congratulations Carla!

    Worldwide Great Shakeout: Are You Earthquake Prepared?

    Stocked up? Emergency plan written and communicated? Even if you feel behind, just starting the process is a great first step.

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    Today is the Great Shakeout in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide.

    See the resources below to get prepared in our “seismically rich” part of our world, including thoughts by Aspect’s very own geologic expert Dave McCormack on the science and potential of the Cascadia Subduction Zone i.e., the “Big One” occurring:

    Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill

    A Geologist’s Thoughtson the Pacific Northwest Mega Quake Story

    Get Ready to Rumble: A Guide to Earthquake Preparedness by the Seattle Times

    What Can I Do? Emergency Guide: From the City of Seattle's Emergency Management Guide

    Meet Mari Otto and Meilani Lanier-Kamaha'o

    Mari Otto and Meilani Lanier-Kamaha'o recently joined Aspect's Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know them better.

      Mari Otto, Staff Geotechnical Engineer

      mari and friend.jpg

      1.    Where are you from? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here? 
      I am from a little tiny archipelago in the Pacific called Palau. Not a lot of people have heard of it, so if you want to learn about it come find me – I love talking about home. It’s a great place to grow up – lots of great diving spots and pretty scenery. I spent almost my entire childhood running around (or more often than not, swimming around) having a blast. 

      I came to the US to study civil engineering at UH Manoa in Hawaii and I worked in New Zealand before deciding to come to Seattle for grad school at UW. Then I decided I like the Pacific Northwest so much, I might as well stay here for a few more years! 

      2.    What inspired you to pursue geotechnical engineering? What made you curious about it?
      My geotech professor in undergrad was a great teacher and he had a lot of cool stories about working as a consultant on the Boston Big Dig. Taking my geotech courses from him made me want to learn more about working in this field. 

      3.    What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 
      My favorite part about geotech is that it involves a lot of hands-on work and going out in the field. Don’t get me wrong, I like being nice and comfy in the office - but if I was inside all the time, I would probably go a little stir-crazy.

      4.    What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 
      I’m still a total Seattle/WA noob, so I’m trying to spend more time exploring the area, hiking, and looking for my future favorite food spots. On lazy days, I like to hang out and read, play guitar (badly), and watch sci-fi/horror movies.

      5.    Where would your dream house be located?
      I’ve actually put a lot of thought into my dream house. It’ll be in Palau, at a nice spot not too far from the beach. It’ll be timber-framed, with an awesome deck for BBQs and viewing the ocean. Ideally, it’ll have a good surf/paddling spot nearby so I could go out on the water every morning.
       

      Meilani Lanier-Kamaha'o, Project Geologist

      Utah's Arches National Park

      Utah's Arches National Park

      1.    Where are you from? If you’re not from the Pacific Northwest, what brought you here? 
      I grew up between Santa Cruz and Valley Center, California – i.e., a proud-to-be-tree-huggers bubble on the Monterey Bay where the Redwoods meet the Pacific Ocean versus the granite hills covered in avocado and citrus groves in the northeast corner of San Diego. In the past dozen years, I’ve lived in Los Angeles, Ellensburg, north county San Diego, and Orange County. The Cascades stole my heart when I flew over them on my way to Missoula in 2010 and after marrying a local – and living throughout the southern California megalopolis – it only made sense to come back to the mountains!

      2.    What inspired you to pursue geology? What made you curious about it?
      Like knowing an older sibling, I do not remember I time when I was not interested in the earth and sky. As a child, I was transfixed by characters that made mountains, chased stars, sent storms around the earth with a breath, or pierced into the core of the earth or sea to find whole new worlds. I also had the benefit of living in spectacular parts of California and was surrounded by an environmentally conscious community. By the time geology entered my life academically it just made sense to me. Genie Elliott introduced me to plate tectonics and Dr. Ann Blythe introduced me to research and career opportunities. So, I pursued a career that was intuitive, generally involved being outdoors, and helped preserved the natural resources I love.

      3.    What do you like best about your area of expertise? What excites you and keeps you motivated? 
      Geology is pretty unique in its physicality compared to other sciences. Our laboratory is everywhere around us, even if covered by concrete and maybe especially in those instances where we manipulate and apply our knowledge of geology. I love that geology exists on so many scales from mountain building and planetary evolution to fractional crystallization and microns. For me environmental consulting is like conducting many little research projects; predicting what’s in the subsurface then finding out. I love when everything I’ve learned is true but also when something different is going on.  Our work directly relates to society and I love working in teams of multidisciplinary professionals. 

      4.    What do you like to do when you aren’t working? 
      Generally being outdoors is what I love, be that hiking, cycling, running, swimming, or sitting with a tasty beer. When there isn’t time for an outing I end up doing miscellaneous projects including building shelves, bedframes, crocheting, sewing, or dabbling in painting and drawing. When I’m not talking with my husband about social justice, the state of education, implicit bias, or all the possibilities of our future, I try to sit down with an instrument and fumble through the process of learning or re-learning how to play it. All that aside, most days my happy place is cooking up delicious food in the kitchen. Vegetables are my thing and trying different spices, sauces, and new ways to prepare could-get-boring-ingredients is fun, calming, and I get to enjoy (EAT) my hard work! 

      5.    Where would your dream house be located? 
      I am a soul divided: 

      1. My dream house would certainly be located in the sky. I’m not yet sure of the logistics, either a semi-permanent cloud city (semi-permanent because I’d still want other clouds, the ones not supporting my house, to be floating by from time to time) or suspended mountains with little root cities on their undersides.
      2. My dream house would certainly be located in the Shire. Beautiful round doorway leading into a cozy home INSIDE A HILL or MOUNTAIN. Gardens, mead, and mountains!