New LiDAR Maps Reveal Skagit County's Geologic Landscape

LiDAR mapping – the process of methodically using pulsed lasers from a plane/helicopter to map aerial-view landscape features – helps communities plan for landslide hazards, understand potential floodplains, and learn about geologic features previously unknown. Because LiDAR penetrates through tree canopies, it produces much greater detail and precision than typical aerial maps. So, when new LiDAR maps are released (particularly in areas with heavy tree cover, thus meaning much longer lead times to create new maps) – it is a cause for excitement in the earth science and geographic information system (GIS) communities.

Skagit County just finished a year-long LiDAR mapping project of the county and produced a great new story map that reveals features--including a prehistoric landslide near Cultus Mountain – that were not apparent on the previous aerial maps.

The region’s first generation of LiDAR maps was a tremendous advancement over the aerial photo-based survey maps that had been used for generations. While very useful, the limitations in quality of the older LiDAR was most apparent in steep and heavily vegetated areas – frustrating because those are exactly the areas where you most want the best data. The greater detail and accuracy of this new generation of LiDAR maps presents a leap forward in resolution and ability to survey these important areas. 

 Compare the quality of the 2006 LiDAR map of Guemes Island (left) to the new version (right)

Compare the quality of the 2006 LiDAR map of Guemes Island (left) to the new version (right)

The new generation also frequently includes “green light LiDAR”, a method with the ability to penetrate water and reveal the bathymetry of shorelines, streams, rivers, and other shallow water bodies.  Both of these improvements greatly improve our ability to rely on the new LiDAR maps for interpretation of geomorphic features and active processes, and detect natural and human-caused changes in the environment. 

Take a look: Skagit Lidar Map Journal

Aspect’s Growing Data Science and Mapping Services

Science and engineering insights fueled, managed, and clearly communicated through technology. 

This sums up Aspect's successful client-focused approach since our inception in 2001. This year, we’ve enhanced the technology piece of this formula by adding three new staff, with over 10 years working together, focused on software development, technology integration, and geospatial data science. Chris Bellusci, Associate Business Systems Architect, and Blair Deaver, Senior Geospatial Data Scientist join Aspect’s recently opened Bend, Oregon office; and Mike Mills, Senior Project Software Developer, joins Aspect’s growing Portland, Oregon office.

These three will enhance Aspect’s already robust Data + Mapping services—helping our clients and project teams with solutions like map-integrated stormwater monitoring dashboards; environmental data management system design and integration; technology needs assessment and road-mapping; web map and GIS application development; integrated systems for mobile field data collection; and the development of machine learning-based approaches to basin-scale hydrology issues.

Data + Mapping Practice Lead and Aspect’s Director of Professional Services Parker Wittman explains the benefits to clients, “Chris, Blair, and Mike boost our core skills and add industry-leading, sought-after services like web development and cloud-based data management expertise,” Wittman said. “Reflecting the world at large, our clients will continue to seek out solutions that are interactive and mobile-platform friendly, that translate large amounts of data into scientific and business insights. These clients require teams that are analytical high-performers, who speak in the languages of business, regulation, earth science, and technology.”

 Chris Bellusci

Chris Bellusci

Chris Bellusci recognizes Aspect as an emerging leader in the data science and mapping world. “Joining Aspect was a clear choice for us. They’ve always partnered their earth engineering and science experts with creative technologists focused on client satisfaction. The three of us (Bellusci, Deaver, and Mills) see a lot of potential to help Aspect’s growing client base,” Bellusci said. “The cloud and web tools we leverage can shrink project times and costs—for example turning a typically three-week monitoring report process into three days. Mountains of data that were tracked by hand previously can now be managed in the cloud and presented to decision makers in minutes instead of weeks.”

Chris has been working in the world of IT/software development, support, and product management for more than 20 years, with an educational background in Electrical Engineering. For the past 12 of those years, Chris has been helping clients plan for and build technology-driven solutions related to earth science problems. He is a seasoned project and client manager with a penchant for new business development. 

 Blair Deaver

Blair Deaver

Blair Deaver’s educational background is in Environmental Studies and GIS. His geospatial expertise is both broad (everything from open source GIS, scripting, mobile development, dev ops, data management, enterprise IT) and deep—he is a recognized Esri GIS expert and is Amazon Web Services certified. Blair is known for an incredibly nimble style of problem-solving, a trait that meshes well with Aspect’s overall approach to client services. 

 Mike Mills

Mike Mills

Mike Mills’s core expertise/background is in web and database development—he’s done everything from statistical analysis (writing custom kriging algorithms for in-browser spatial analyses) to mobile application development.  He’s a full-stack developer with a decade of experience delivering solutions for earth science and engineering projects. Mike’s educational background is in Mathematics and Computer Science.

Chris, Blair, and Mike all joined Aspect from GeoEngineers, where they had previously worked as a team for the better part of 10 years. Together—with Associate Water Resources Engineer, John Warinner—Chris and Blair make up Aspect’s new Bend, Oregon office. With Mike joining Aspect’s growing Portland office as well, Aspect is continuing its earnest expansion into the Oregon earth + water market. The experts who are part of Aspect emerging Oregon presence service all the firm’s core practice areas—and are collectively a reflection of Aspect’s multidisciplinary approach.

 

Inspiring Burgeoning Environmental Consultants

For an interdisciplinary WWU course led by Dr. Ruth Sofield and focused on the Science and Management of Contaminated Sites (SMoCS), Aspect’s Steve Germiat and Kirsi Longley gave budding environmental consultants a look at what life and work is really like for professional environmental consultants.

To complement the students’ landfill RI/FS case study, Kirsi presented Aspect’s recent RI/FS work at a landfill in western Washington. The presentation focused on the scope of the investigation, the findings, including how volatile contaminants can transfer between landfill gas and groundwater, and how the findings were developed into recommendations for remedial alternatives.  In addition to the scientific and technological challenges of environmental remediation, Steve and Kirsi addressed the nuts and bolts of a consultant’s role in the MTCA cleanup process, and the skills and attributes that enable a consultant to excel. Looking back on the presentation, Dr. Sofield said “Students benefit so much from interactions with Steve and Kirsi.  To actually learn from a practitioner and see that classroom material has real application changes how students think about and participate in their education.  It changes a lot for the students, including their intended career path.”

About SMoCS

In collaboration with Washington State Department of Ecology Toxics Cleanup Program, WWU’s Huxley College of the Environment (Huxley) offers undergraduate students a course series in the Science and Management of Contaminated sites (SMoCS). The SMoCS series includes three courses that build knowledge of the contaminated site cleanup process in Washington State with an emphasis on how scientific investigations are conducted, use of the technical documents associated with cleanups, the roles of different parties in cleanup decisions, and enhanced professional skills.  For more information on the program visit http://faculty.wwu.edu/harperr3/SMoCS.shtml.

The Story in the Sediment: Tracing Stormwater Pollution Sources at Superfund Sites

Since 2001, the lowest five miles of Seattle’s Duwamish River (known as the Lower Duwamish Waterway or LDW) has been designated as a 412-acre Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site. The LDW’s Superfund status results from decades of historical industrial activity. On top of the historical contamination, the LDW has ongoing issues with contaminated stormwater runoff. Rain hits the abundance of impervious surfaces – e.g., asphalt roads and lots, building roofs – in the industrial areas next to the river, collects contaminants from those surfaces, and carries it to the nearest storm drain and into the river.

Sediment sampling in Seattle's Lower Duwamish Superfund area helps identify contaminates and cleanup strategies to improve water quality. 

Among the many tasks in cleaning up Superfund sites is the ongoing detective work to sleuth what contaminants are there and where they came from. In the LDW cleanup, one of the key clues isn’t even in the river water itself, but in the sediment carried by stormwater. 

Aspect staff have sampled stormwater sediments across the LDW Superfund site – previously for the City of Seattle and King County and currently for the Port of Seattle at Harbor Island. Our efforts studying these solids in stormwater runoff provide key information about the recent history at a site and the extent of contamination.
 

The Benefits of Sediment Sleuthing: Unlike Water, It Accumulates

Unlike stormwater, which runs through and beyond an outfall to receiving waters, heavier sediments and other settleable solids (relatively heavy substances that sink in water) carried by runoff drop out and accumulate. This accumulation, which occurs in key locations such as stormwater catch basins, vaults, and low-gradient pipes, provides a rich environment for valuable leads on water quality contaminants that may eventually end up in streams, rivers, lakes, wetlands, and Puget Sound. Sediment monitoring often provides a more comprehensive historical picture of pollutants compared to instantaneous or short-term sampling of water alone.

At Superfund areas, and many other sites challenged by stormwater runoff, sediment monitoring benefits clients by: 

  • Providing a historical picture of pollution—through accumulated sediment analysis--associated with stormwater runoff and industrial discharge.
  • Identifying chronic types of pollution that may deteriorate water quality and habitat.
  • Tracing the sources of pollution to their origin for purposes of management, treatment, or elimination.
  • Determining sediment accumulation rates in sewers and catch basins to improve maintenance and operation needs and to anticipate and prevent flooding.
  • Complying with permits, records of decision, and other legal requirements for preventing environmental degradation or requiring cleanup of polluted sites.
  • Measuring the effect of land use activities and stormwater treatment best management practices (BMPs).
     

Tracking Hot Spots Across 600 Acres of Pavement and Buildings

Boeing Field (aka King County International Airport or KCIA) is one of the nation’s busiest primary non-hub airports and covers over 630 acres of mostly impervious surface. Managing stormwater runoff over this much area and with many industrial tenants is a challenge, especially because KCIA faces the challenge of being responsible for all discharge to the LDW from its property, even runoff or discharge in tenant-operated areas. 

 Sediment traps in a storm sewer manhole

Sediment traps in a storm sewer manhole

Aspect staff previously performed inexpensive but high-resolution sediment monitoring throughout KCIA’s storm drainage infrastructure that ranged from shallow old brick manholes to deep new stormwater treatment vaults. The results from the sediment monitoring provided a finer-grained picture of accumulated sediment quality than had ever been collected at KCIA. This allowed King County to identify hot spots of likely pollution sources coming from both individual tenants and from legacy airport infrastructure and helped prioritize an action plan to address these areas.

Using Sediment Data to Track Down Drainage Ditch Polluters

In a different area of the LDW, sediment data helped the City of Seattle identify the source of intermittent toxic metal pollutants from a far upland drainage area to the LDW, despite having outdated drainage maps. 

 Sediment collection in a storm sewer manhole

Sediment collection in a storm sewer manhole

Because the area was previously in unincorporated Seattle, sewer records were incomplete. With the assistance of an Ecology inspector who knew the area and businesses well, Aspect staff collected sediment samples from both the public and private drainage systems. The sediment samples helped both Ecology and the City efficiently trace the source of the metals pollution to a business that had a previously unknown illicit connection from its industrial waste drainage system to the ditches outside, which served as the public storm drainage.

Long-term Sediment Monitoring at Harbor Island to Support Environmental Compliance

Aspect is currently assisting the Port of Seattle with sediment monitoring at a 15-acre marine terminal on Harbor Island, a discrete Superfund site located downstream of the LDW Superfund area. The sediment monitoring supports the Port in demonstrating compliance with a Record of Decision (ROD) to rehabilitate the site. As a site that drains directly to Puget Sound, the objective of the cleanup (which included dredging and removing contaminated soil) is to reduce concentrations of hazardous substances in runoff to levels that will have no adverse effect on marine organisms. 

 Sediment traps mounted on the side of a storm sewer manhole

Sediment traps mounted on the side of a storm sewer manhole

 Sample bottles with accumulated sediment at the bottom

Sample bottles with accumulated sediment at the bottom

To evaluate this over the required 10-year monitoring period, Aspect is monitoring accumulated sediments in the new stormwater drainage system at the terminal for metals, tributyltin, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). The results from the sediment monitoring are compared to target concentrations in the Washington State Sediment Management Standards and show the Port’s commitment to compliance with the ROD and to ensuring that the site rehabilitation was successful. 

Sediment Sampling Provides Key Historical Context to Water Quality Evaluation

Measuring sediment quality is an excellent – and affordable – complement to measuring water quality. Aspect’s sediment sleuthing has helped clients in the LDW create a more holistic picture of both historical and ongoing stormwater pollution, as well as flooding potential. From this picture, they are better able to identify sources of contamination and create specific plans to address them—leading to a healthier LDW for all. 

Aspect’s Dan Haller Sharing His Water Rights Strategies and Discussing the New Exempt Well Legislation at the Central Washington Agriculture Seminar

On April 6th, Aspect’s Dan Haller will be speaking on three water right topics: how to stretch your existing rights to cover new irrigated lands (spreading), the new legislation on rural exempt wells (ESSB 6091), and relinquishment protection strategies

Join Dan and other distinguished speakers for the FREE Central Washington Agriculture Seminar.

The Story of a 106-Year-Old Northwest Map Making Institution

The color of the water is off; it’s too dark. So he prints the map three more times, each time adjusting a small detail.”  

Yup, that’s map making. Aspect's mapping team was nodding along to this touching Seattle Times story about a 106-year-old map-making business. We’ve had a Kroll map hanging in the office ever since Aspect’s early days for motivation and inspiration. It serves as an important reminder that you never know the longevity and influence the maps you create just might have, even the little details have to be just right.

The Kroll map hanging in Aspect's Seattle office

How Will We Hold Up to The Cascadia Megaquake?

Two recent articles in The Seattle Times explore how the Pacific Northwest's infrastructure will be affected by the next major earthquake.

New Cascadia quake analysis shows building retrofits could save many lives

How to survive the Cascadia Earthquake? Tips from seismologist Lucy Jones, ‘the Beyoncé of earthquakes’

Back in 2015, our very own Dave McCormack chimed in with his thoughts in response to the now infamous New Yorker story, The Really Big One

A Geologist's Thoughts on the Pacific Northwest Mega-Quake Story

 Source: USGS

Source: USGS

Meet Jackson Lundgren!

Jackson Lundgren recently joined Aspect’s Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know him better.   

Jackson Lundgren - Field Technician

 Jackson in the Rainbow Basin in Southern California

Jackson in the Rainbow Basin in Southern California

1. Where are you from?  

I’m from just north of San Francisco, a friendly suburb called Mill Valley tucked away in the fog and Redwood trees of Mt. Tamalpais. I came to Washington for school in Bellingham where I wanted to study Automotive Engineering at Western Washington University. I wound up getting my Bachelor of Science in Geology instead.

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

I grew up along the San Andreas Fault and was fascinated by the idea of a force slowly tearing California apart. I was also impressed by the dynamic nature of the California coastline where mudslides often destroyed local homes and infrastructure. That background curiosity combined with vacations in Yosemite and the Mt. Shasta area led to a lifelong love for geology and the environment that eventually eclipsed my interest in engineering.

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

Helping keep people and property safe from hazardous conditions in the environment. The idea of working as part of a team to solve complex and often very different issues helps keep me motivated.

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

I like to fish, hike, cook (especially jambalaya!), read, road trip, and see live music.  

5.    Where would your dream house be located? 

One house on Bainbridge Island (right on the point by the ferry, you know the spot). Another house in Morro Beach, California, looking out at Morro Rock. I’d spend April through October on Bainbridge, then spend the winter on the central California coast.
 

Kirsi Longley Earns Project Management Professional Certificate

Kirsi Longley.jpg

Aspect’s Senior Environmental Scientist, Kirsi Longley, recently passed the Project Management Professional (PMP) certificate exam. The PMP designation is through the Project Management Institute, a globally recognized nonprofit that champions professional development through trainings, research, and certification programs. Public sector and private clients are increasingly favoring a PMP to lead teams on complex, multidisciplinary projects. Kirsi joins Aspect’s other certified PMPs on staff: Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton and Principal Water Resources Engineer John Knutson.

Kirsi’s new PMP status creates more opportunities for her and Aspect to serve as valued advisors to our clients. Congratulations, Kirsi! 

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:

capitol-421196_1920.jpg

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

Amelia Pic.jpg

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.

John Warinner - Headshot 2.jpg

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.