A Peek Inside Washington State's Draft Industrial Stormwater General Permit

Stormwater discharges from over 1,200 industrial facilities are covered under Washington’s Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP). The goal of the ISGP is to reduce the discharge of pollutants by improving management of stormwater at industrial sites. It originates from a combination of federal (the Clean Water Act) and Washington state (Water Pollution Control Act) law. Under the ISGP, permittees are required to implement Best Management Practices to reduce stormwater pollution, monitor their stormwater discharges, compare the results with benchmark values, and implement an escalating series of corrective actions depending on the number of times the benchmarks are exceeded. The current permit has brought compliance challenges, including expensive stormwater treatment systems and citizen law suits, to many permittees.

On May 1, 2019, the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology) published a draft of the next ISGP for public comment. Owen Reese, PE, Aspect’s stormwater practice lead, offers this synopsis:

What Won’t Change

Many of the key permit provisions will not change. The five core water quality benchmarks—turbidity, pH, oil sheen, copper and zinc—remain the same, and the requirements and deadlines for implementing corrective actions if those benchmarks are exceeded remain unchanged.

Proposed Changes

Increasing Focus on Infiltration to Groundwater – The most significant proposed changes relate to discharges to groundwater. Ecology is proposing changes to groundwater-related provisions that leave the impression that they intend to increasingly regulate infiltration of stormwater under the ISGP. This sets Ecology on a divergent course from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who recently issued an interpretative statement that discharges to groundwater are categorically excluded from the permitting requirements of the Clean Water Act. The interpretative statement does not apply to Washington and other states in the 4th and 9th Districts while Hawai’i Wildlife Fund v. County of Maui is pending before the Supreme Court. 

Ecology has also struck language from the permit in several locations, including key groundwater-related provisions, without identifying it as a change—which could be problematic for reviewers.

Adding Two New Industries – Ecology proposes to add two new industries to ISGP coverage: marine construction and certain heavy equipment rentals. Neither of these industries are currently required to have NPDES coverage for stormwater discharges under the Clean Water Act. What activities qualify as “marine construction” can also be challenging to define as it does not fall within easily definable Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) or North American Industry Classification System (NAISC) code, and Ecology confounds this issue by not including the definition of marine construction in the draft ISGP.

Identifying Industries by NAICS Codes – Ecology proposes to identify industries that require ISGP coverage by NAICS code, instead of SIC code. The Clean Water Act remains based on SIC codes, and there is a not a one-to-one relationship between the two codes. As a result, Ecology’s translation of SIC codes to NAICS appears to have included, perhaps inadvertently, several business sectors that previously did not require permit coverage, such as:

  • Miniwarehouses and Self-Storage Units (NAICS 531130)

  • Scenic and Site Seeing Transportation (NAICS 487990)

  • Commercial Air and Rail Equipment Rental (NAICS 532411)

Puget Sound Sediment Cleanup Sites – Ecology has re-upped the requirements that permittees discharging to a Puget Sound Sediment Cleanup site (such as the Duwamish, Elliott Bay, Commencement Bay, Port Gardner Bay, or Bellingham Bay) will need to sample stormwater sediments and clean their pipes at least once in the next 5-year permit cycle. It was not clear in the prior permit that these would be recurring obligations.

Annual Sampling to Confirm Consistent Attainment – Under the draft permit language, facilities that have achieved consistent attainment by meeting water quality benchmarks would be required to collect one sample per year (in the fourth quarter). Any exceedance of a benchmark would bump the facility out of consistent attainment and require resuming quarterly sampling.

Sampling First Fall Storm Earlier – Ecology proposes to shift the requirement to sample the first flush a month earlier, to beginning September 1 of each year. We’ll likely see more third quarter benchmark exceedances as a result, as there are fewer summer storms to sample to average with the first flush.

What the Proposed Changes Could Mean

Although ostensibly aimed at providing clarity, the revisions incorporated into draft ISGP actually increase the opportunity for confusion. If the draft ISGP language is implemented, we may see more citizen suits, particularly related to the use of NAICS codes and stormwater discharges to groundwater. Ecology could remedy some of these concerns by clearing identifying which provisions of the ISGP are based in federal law, and which originate at the state level.

Comments on the draft permit are due on June 29 and can be submitted online at: http://ws.ecology.commentinput.com/?id=k3Zx2. Ecology is also hosting three more public hearings where comments can be given in person:  

Contact Owen Reese at 206-838-5844 or oreese@aspectconsulting.com with any questions on the proposed changes and implications.

Aspect personnel collecting a sediment sample at an industrial site.

Aspect personnel collecting a sediment sample at an industrial site.

Bellingham's Waypoint Park Wins Local and National Awards

Waypoint Park touts a playground, a pier, access to the beach along the Whatcom Waterway, and now, several awards. The project recently won the American Shore and Beach Preservation Association (ASBPA)’s award for Best Restored Beach in the U.S.; and the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) Seattle Section’s 2019 Local Outstanding Civil Engineering Achievement Award.

The park sits upon the site of a former Georgia-Pacific pulp mill. Aspect was a part of the team that spent seven years cleaning up the contaminated industrial area and providing geotechnical and environmental consultation throughout the design, permitting, and construction. It opened to the public last summer, and there are more redevelopment projects planned in the vicinity to continue the transformation along Bellingham’s waterfront.

Congratulations to the City and Port of Bellingham, prime firm KPFF, and the whole project team for your award-winning vision and work for this project!

Aspect’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer Erik Andersen strolls amongst the bubbles during the Waypoint Park opening celebration last summer. He developed foundations recommendations for the repurposed 400,000-pound industrial acid ball tank turned public art piece titled “Waypoint.”

Aspect’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer Erik Andersen strolls amongst the bubbles during the Waypoint Park opening celebration last summer. He developed foundations recommendations for the repurposed 400,000-pound industrial acid ball tank turned public art piece titled “Waypoint.”

Dave Cook Discusses Consent Decrees, Cleanup and Ecology’s Healthy Housing Program for Contaminated Sites at the WA Brownfields Conference on May 30, 2019

On May 30, Aspect’s Dave Cook will co-present on affordable housing development from the environmental consulting perspective at the Washington State Brownfields Conference in Spokane.

Brownfield properties represent opportunity. Dave will talk about innovative ways to turn blighted property into affordable/work force housing. Aspect’s first-of-its-kind work on the Mt Baker Housing Association’s Gateway project in the Mt Baker/Rainier Valley neighborhood in Seattle has become an example of what is possible. Mt Baker Housing Association (MBHA), as a non-profit, took on a significantly contaminated site to redevelop as affordable housing where the cost of the cleanup is more than the value of the five properties combined. Dave will join Scott O’Dowd of Ecology, Conor Hansen of MBHA and Mike Dunning of Perkins Coie to describe how these properties were purchased, investigated, liability managed, and the cleanup financed—all keys that made this pioneering project successful and sparking the State’s new Healthy Housing program .

Contact Dave (206.838.5837 and dcook@aspectconsulting.com), or learn more about prospective purchaser consent decrees, funding, and redeveloping contaminated land for affordable housing at https://www.aspectconsulting.com/affordablehousing


Engineers Without Borders USA Spotlights Seattle Volunteer Eset Alemu

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In honor of National Volunteer Month, Engineers Without Borders USA (EWB-USA) put the spotlight on engineers who give their time and talents to improve infrastructure in communities around the world. Their blog post features an interview with Eset Alemu, a Seattle-based engineer who is co-leading the Puget Sound Professionals of EWB-USA for several projects in Nicaragua. She also is the current president of the ASCE Seattle Section and is helping with transition for the President-Elect, Aspect’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton, who will step into the role in September.

Read EWB-USA’s full post here.

Aspect’s Principal Geologist Dave Cook, who has volunteered with Engineers Without Borders USA since its inception, says, "EWB-USA is engineering with soul. I, like many, still believe in founder Bernard Amadei's ethos and why this organization was originally founded. Engineers, scientists and other professionals should all be able to work in harmony to deliver technical skills that are so hard to come by in the developing world."

In addition to Dave’s contributions to EWB-USA, Aspect has supported EWB-USA financially over the past several years.  Aspect supports all volunteers, particularly those whose mission is capacity building around Earth + Water problems.  https://www.ewb-usa.org/donate/

Taylor Dayton Talks Science and Engineering Careers on May 9 in Wenatchee

On May 9, Water Resource Engineer Taylor Dayton is giving a presentation to the Society and Natural Resources students at Wenatchee Valley College. The lecture will explore technical career paths in earth and water resources, with a deep dive on Taylor’s early career experience as a water resources engineer and showcasing a variety of local water resources and water rights projects she has worked on over the last four years in Aspect’s Wenatchee office.

Aspect Talks Reclaimed Water, ASR, and Walla Walla Basin at 2019 AWWA

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Andrew Austreng, Jon Turk, and John Warinner will be presenting Thursday and Friday May 2 and 3rd at the American Water Works Association (AWWA) ‘River Runs Through It’ 2019 Section Conference in Vancouver, WA. Andrew will present on the Othello, WA Aquifer Storage and Recovery project; Jon Turn will showcase groundwater recharge strategies for a unique project involving reclaimed water in Kitsap County; and John Warinner will discuss challenges and opportunities of managing groundwater across two state lines in the Walla Walla subbasin.

The annual AWWA conference is one of the largest conferences for water professionals in the Pacific Northwest.

New GIS Tool Helps Remove Barriers to Salmon Habitat Connectivity

Clean, cold water. Lush riparian vegetation. Gravels for spawning. These are some of the elements that create healthy habitat for salmon. The Upper Columbia region has some of the best in the Pacific Northwest. Unfortunately, not all of this habitat is within the salmon’s reach. Removing barriers such as culverts and dams is a top priority for salmon recovery goals, but there are thousands of barriers, limited resources to remove them, and a diverse group of stakeholders with issues to address. What everyone wants to know first is: how do we decide WHICH barriers to remove?

Instream barriers such as culverts like this can limit fish passage to available habitat.

Enter a New Tool for Fish Habitat Decision Making

In partnership with the Cascade Columbia Fisheries Enhancement Group, the Upper Columbia Salmon Recovery Board, the Upper Columbia Regional Technical Team (RTT), and a technical steering committee, Aspect created a GIS-based decision support tool that summarizes the overall quality of ecological conditions surrounding each instream barrier within the Wenatchee Basin. This custom spatial model provides insight into critical questions regarding barrier-removal priority:

  • Is there habitat available upstream from the barrier that salmon currently cannot access?

  • Is that available habitat of sufficient quality for salmon?

  • Is there known fish usage near the barrier already?

  • Are there barriers downstream blocking fish access?

This prioritization tool provides salmon-recovery stakeholders with a common approach to answer these questions. The variables under consideration at a barrier—upstream habitat quality, local stream temperature, connectivity to other barriers, etc.—each receive a score. Those scores are then added up to a total priority tier ranking for that barrier. By assessing each barrier through this scoring process, we’ve created an actionable apples-to-apples comparison of habitat benefits associated with barrier removal.

A preview of barrier removal ranking priority data.

A preview of barrier removal ranking priority data.

A Tier 1 ranking indicates the top priority for removal, indicating more biological benefit gained from a barrier’s removal. Tier 4 ranking is the lowest priority ranking, indicating little biological benefit gained from a barrier’s removal. UCSRB and the RTT use these categories to guide decisions on proposed project funding. The rankings are updated as available data sources improve.  Preview the results HERE. This tool will allow stakeholders to align and coordinate their barrier removal work towards the larger common goal of salmon-habitat connectivity within the Upper Columbia and throughout the state.

If interested in adapting this tool for your project and/or basin(s), contact Robyn Pepin for more information.

ETA (6/3/2019): Robyn Pepin and Taylor Rulien’s poster for this GIS tool won best analytical data presentation at 2019’s WAURISA Conference. Check it out here.

Removing Barriers to Fish Passage at Icicle Creek

Like many of Washington’s waterways, Icicle Creek in Chelan County is the site of several projects with the goal of helping salmon and other fish make their way upstream to spawn. Many of the projects involve constructing structures, like a habitat-friendly culvert or a fish ladder, to balance fish passage with the many other needs and uses for the river. But a project sponsored by Trout Unlimited is focused on removing barriers—in this case, large boulders in the creek that stand in the fish’s way. Once the boulders are removed, fish will have access to another 26 miles of habitat.

This project is one of a suite of projects the recently released Icicle Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement (PEIS) recommends in the Preferred Alternative to implement the Icicle Strategy, an $82 million dollar effort to ensure a sustainable water supply and water resources for people, farms, and fish in the Wenatchee Basin through 2050. Aspect has been the technical and facilitation lead on this project since 2012. Our work includes serving the Icicle Work Group—a group of approximately 30 stakeholders from local, state, and federal governments, Tribes, irrigation districts, farmers, and non-profit groups that created the Icicle Strategy; developing the PEIS; and leading technical evaluation of proposed projects across the basin that may improve water resource management and increase instream flow during critical flow periods.

Senior Geotechnical Engineer Nick Szot, PE, and Senior Engineering Geologist Mark Swank, LEG, are supporting Trout Unlimited’s goals for the Icicle Creek project by developing alternatives for fish passage and relocation of a 16-inch-diameter watermain that brings water to the City of Leavenworth. They have also provided considerations for protecting creek bank slope stability during construction, which is expected to start in summer 2020.  Learn more about the project in this recent article in the Wenatchee World.

MTCA Turns 30

Happy 30th Birthday to the Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA)­—Washington’s citizen-led law put in place to help cleanup over 7,000 sites statewide. Those thousands of cleaned up sites have led to a cleaner environment, better human health, and thriving communities. The interpretation or implementation of it has had some bumps and difficulties, but on balance MTCA has been very beneficial to the common good and, as the video discusses, an example nationally of a successful cleanup process. As a firm that helps clients interpret and cleanup sites, Aspect is proud to be a part of its effect on all of us.

Checkout Ecology’s short video for the history and highlights of this important and innovative law.

Learn about the history of Washington's citizen-led environmental cleanup law - the Model Toxics Control Act. This innovative law powers our work to investigate, clean up, and prevent hazardous waste.

Carla Brock Chairs WA’s Geologist Licensing Board

Associate Geologist Carla Brock was recently appointed as Chair of the Washington State Geologist Licensing Board by her fellow board members. The board is comprised of six licensed geologists and one public member and is responsible for licensing geologists; updating the rules and regulations governing the practice of geology in the state of Washington; and investigating violations of the regulations. Carla is starting her second year of a four-term appointment to the board.

Washington State is a member of the National Association of the State Boards of Geology (ASBOG), which develops standardized written examinations for administration by the 32 member states and Puerto Rico, assessing qualifications of applicants seeking licensure as professional geologists. In addition to her duties on the state board, Carla participates as a Subject Matter Expert (SME) on ASBOG’s Council of Examiners (COE). The COE is comprised of SMEs from across the country and convenes twice a year, immediately following administration of the tests, for examination development and validation workshops. The COE spends two days reviewing test questions and answers to maximize the fairness and quality of the examinations as measures of competency. The COE is not all work, each meeting includes lunchtime presentations by local experts on interesting and relevant topics and a third day in which local experts lead a geologic field trip.

Carla just returned from the spring COE, which was held in Nashua, New Hampshire and is proud to support ASBOG but also enjoys the opportunity to connect with colleagues from across the country and to learn about local geology.

Geologists love a good roadcut! A quartz syenite ring dike intrudes the pre-Mesozoic tonalite with mylonitization at the contact.

Geologists love a good roadcut! A quartz syenite ring dike intrudes the pre-Mesozoic tonalite with mylonitization at the contact.

Geologists love a good roadcut! A quarts syenite ring dike intrudes pre-Mesozoic tonalite.

Geologists ogling an outcrop in central New Hampshire.

Geologists stomping through the snow in central New Hampshire in search of an outcrop.

Talking Field Data Collection at 2019 OCEAN Connect Conference on April 11

Over the past decade or two, technological advancements have presented opportunities to streamline field data collection. However, migrating field staff to a paperless workflow requires more than choosing the right software and hardware.

On April 11, Aspect’s John Warinner and Robyn Pepin will cover this topic and give tips on how to effectively convert field data collection from paper to digital process at the 2018 Oregon Conservation Education and Assistance Network (OCEAN) Connect Conference in Sunriver, Oregon.

Key areas of the presentation will include:

  • Overview of commercial off-the-shelf software and reporting systems

  • Case studies and lessons learned by Aspect’s field and data teams

  • Successful talking points to convince decision makers

See good field techniques and analysis put into practice, with some mountain biking thrown in for good measure here:

It's IPAD Mini vs. Trimble GPS in a mapmaking showdown on the sunny trails of the Chelan-Douglas Land Trust in the Wenatchee Valley.

And read more about our experience with how one suite of field data technology has improved our workflow.


Taylor Dayton Presenting on Water Rights as Mortgage Assets to NAPMW - April 12

Taylor Dayton, Water Resources Engineer

Taylor Dayton, Water Resources Engineer

Aspect Water Resources Engineer Taylor Dayton, EIT, will present at the National Association of Professional Mortgage Women (NAPMW) LPO Seminar in Lake Chelan on Friday, April 12, 2019. The presentation will explore water rights as assets in the mortgage industry - how water rights are created, moved, lost, and valued. Taylor will also speak to the recent Hirst decision and “fix” and how it affects eastern Washington water rights and development.

The State’s Longest-Running Water Rights Adjudication is Coming to an End

In 1977, James J. Acquavella’s name was listed first on the summons when Ecology filed a petition for an adjudication to determine the legality of all claims for surface water in the Yakima River Basin – birthing the Ecology v. James Acquvella, et al water rights case. Forty-two years and 2,500 claimants and interested parties later, it is coming to a close. Some takeaways for this milestone moment in Washington state water management are:

  • Starting in 1977, the Department of Ecology v. Acquavella adjudication is the longest-running general adjudication in state history, determining the validity and establishing priority of surface water claims in the Yakima Basin.

  • With the issuance of the Final Decree by Yakima County Superior Court, water right holders in the Yakima Basin will finally have certainty over the authorized quantities and purposes and places of use of their water right claims.

  • Adjudicated water right certificates will be issued by Ecology for all claims determined by the Court to be valid; water right holders will no longer need to get approval of the Court to complete a change or transfer a water right, but instead file applications with Ecology like everywhere else in the State.

  • During the adjudication, stakeholders in the Yakima Basin continued to lead the state in providing innovative approaches to water resource management challenges, including early adoption of water banking and mitigation markets to ease permitting of new water rights, and development and implementation of the Yakima Basin Integrated Plan.

Aspect has worked on a variety of Aquavella claims over the decades – including hundreds of due diligence water right evaluations; helping buyers/sellers move and change these rights; and developing water banks through the State’s Trust Water Right Program to support efficient transfer of existing rights and permitting of new, mitigated water rights.

Read the fascinating tale of water management in the Yakima River Basin and the implications of this ruling in this great Department of Ecology blog post.

See what else Aspect’s Water Resources practice has been up to.

Helping Power Seattle's Tech Sector

Seattle City Light is about to unveil its new state-of-the-art substation that will transition this South Lake Union site from a Greyhound bus maintenance facility and parking lot into an “architectural marvel.” From property acquisition and contaminant remediation through design and construction, Aspect completed a full range of environmental and geotechnical services to support the redevelopment of a sleek electrical substation wedged in the heart of Seattle’s tech sector.

Check out this great Seattle Times article on the new substation and peruse some photos of the truly impressive facility.

Recognizing World Water Day

Water is a scarce resource for many worldwide. The United Nations has designated today, March 22nd, as World Water Day to raise awareness of the billions of people—about 3 in 10—living without safe water. As earth science professionals, this message strikes a chord with Aspect staff who spend many of our work hours towards helping clients find, produce, and manage water. Supporting NGO goals – like the UN’s “water for all by 2030” – is important to us. Whether it’s organizations like UN or Engineers Without Borders USA, please join us in learning more about these worthy causes.

https://www.worldwaterday.org/

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International Women’s Day at Aspect

Aspect celebrated International Women’s Day with a gathering and conversation sparked by a video produced by Lean In as part of their 50 Ways to Fight Bias program. The video defined the common biases women experience at work and beyond:

  • Performance (underestimating women’s experience and performance)

  • Attribution (women get less credit for success, more blame for failure)

  • Likability (been agreeable can be seen as less competent, while being assertive can make one less likeable)

  • Maternal (choosing to become a parent can be seen has having less commitment to career)

  • Affinity (people tend to gravitate towards people who are similar in appearance and background; when only white men hold positions of power, this has a negative effect on women and people of color)

  • Compounded discrimination + Intersectionality (the compounding affect of bias due to gender, race, sexual orientation, disability, and other attributes)

Thirty-three percent of Aspect’s staff of 107 are women, including 15 percent of Aspect’s technical/engineering staff, which is slightly higher than the statewide percentages for female engineers –11 percent in Oregon and 12 percent in Washington. In 2018, 21 percent of our technical hires were women.

The theme for International Women’s Day 2019 was Balance for Better, encouraging action towards creating a more gender-balanced world. Some of our staff modeled the “Balance for Better” pose to show our commitment to finding that balance.

Breeyn Greer, EIT, Staff Environmental Engineer (left) and Amelia Oates, GIT – Staff Geologist (right) at Aspect’s Field Annex in Seattle

Amy Tice, LG, Project Geologist, and family

Carla Brock, LHG, Associate Geologist

“Balancing bike racing with my career is always a challenge, and requires that I am super organized and efficient with my time, but somehow I figure out how to make it work.” – Delia Massey, EIT, Project Engineer

Jennifer Koogler, Technical Editor

“Being the only woman in the Portland office—and in all of Aspect’s Oregon offices—doesn’t hinder my ability to stay focused and produce quality work. The attitude Aspect has towards women in the workplace is really motivating and makes me proud to be a part of the company. We have incredibly intelligent and strong women who shine brightly here, and as a young staff person, I am thankful to have them as my mentors.” –Jasmin Jamal, EIT, Staff Engineer, and Cooper on Mt. Tabor

Jessica Smith, LG, Associate Geologist

Meghan O’Brien, CWRE, Project Scientist

(Left to right) David Unruh (Staff Scientist); Chip Barnett, LEG (Senior Engineering Geologist); Isabellah von Trapp (Staff Scientist); Meilani Lanier-Kamaha’o, LG (Project Geologist); Dustin Taylor, EIT (Staff Engineer)




Meet Chip Barnett and Peter Price!

Senior Engineering Geologist Chip Barnett and Staff Scientist Peter Price recently joined Aspect—Chip in our Seattle office, and Peter in our Yakima office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know them better.

Chip Barnett - Senior Engineering Geologist

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

    I lived in Central and Northern California (stuck in Lodi for most of it) before I pursued a master’s degree at Portland State University. I’ve lived in the Puget Sound area with my family since 2002 and have worked in consulting in the Pacific Northwest since 1998. I think the climate really agrees with me and I like the people. My family has deep roots in Washington and Oregon, so living here just feels right.

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

    I was fortunate to take engineering geology courses at Portland State University with Professor Scott Burns. One class had a series of case histories presented by different visiting geologists, including Jon Koloski and Richard Galster, who enjoyed long careers in our region. The variety of challenging projects and solutions they presented was a great introduction to the field of engineering geology and geotechnical engineering.

    My master’s thesis included evaluating potential flooding impacts relative to regional subsidence following a Cascadia Subduction Zone Earthquake in a number of coastal communities in Washington and Oregon. Speaking with some of the local city engineers about an approximate amount of anticipated subsidence and impacts was interesting. It helped me see how these hazards impact infrastructure and public safety.

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

    I enjoy finding opportunities when we can provide an innovative solution that a client really appreciates. I’m excited when I get to work in an area where I may not have worked before and get a chance to read literature or review geologic mapping to think about how that affects our project. Being licensed in Washington, Oregon, Idaho and California has given me many opportunities to work in different areas.

    I’ve also worked on a number of corridor studies (pipelines and transmission lines) where the geology and subsurface conditions can vary widely. Those projects are always really interesting, and I enjoy discussing the layout and details of figures with GIS Analysts to meet a client’s needs.

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

    We take our youngest son to a lot of swim meets and an occasional jazz band performance. I enjoy yardwork, hiking, camping, volunteering in the community (professional and local), and attending concerts—and I like to sing really loud at home, annoying everyone except our dog, Cosmo. Yes, I have done karaoke.

  5. Where in the world would your dream home be located?

    My dream house would be located on the Washington coast, preferably above elevation ~400 feet to reduce the risk of potential tsunami impacts. The house itself would be a seismically retrofitted Victorian home with solar panels, a small wind turbine, and an on-site well system that could also be used to provide passive heating.

Peter Price - Staff Scientist

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

    I was born in Pocatello, Idaho, and raised in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I moved to the Portland, Oregon, area after high school to be closer to my extended family. I have numerous aunts, uncles, and cousins living all over the west side of Oregon.

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

    I have had a zeal for hydrogeology ever since I took a course at Oregon State University. Water is a valuable resource, and the more I can understand the intricacies of our impacts and ever-growing need for this resource, the more I feel prepared to inform the next generation’s understanding and encourage a respect for and preservation of water.

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

    I would say it is the combination of mental and physical exertion. Collecting field data can be wonderfully refreshing, and physically difficult. When exhausted physically, you can sit down and turn your hard work into other people’s understanding via maps, data table, graphs, reports, etc.

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

    I enjoy going on adventures with my family. My wife, Amanda and our 3-year-old daughter, Aubrey, are usually reluctant towards my overly enthusiastic plan to drive next to some river and “adventure” along the way. After they get out of the car at the first of many stops and witness the natural beauty that surrounds them, they thank me for getting them out of the house, usually.

  5. Where in the world would you like to travel next?

    I would like to travel to Antarctica, briefly. Maybe check out the Ross Island Ice Shelf, briefly.

A Thousand Photos to Better Storytelling: The Aspect Photo Contest

In the earth science consulting world, our work is innately photogenic. Stream gauging at a quiet bend in the river. Installing new pin piles at a pier on a scenic city waterfront. Even the “grimy” photos, like well sampling at a contaminated site, provoke interest and fascination. Staff take pictures to document their technical work and those same photos are the lifeblood of firm branding and storytelling. However, Aspect’s marketing team, tasked with telling our firm’s story, can struggle with harvesting high-quality visuals. The photos are out there, yet they may be buried in forgotten file locations or staff’s work phones. Just asking “Have you got any good pictures?” yields scattershot results, which often then means reusing the same tired photos again and again.

So, a year ago, our marketing group decided that we needed a better way to consistently draw out quality photos. What better incentive than a friendly contest?

I love it, it gives me glimpse to what our field people are up to, since I am in the office 100% of the time and not a field person, I envy them the fun they have when in gorgeous location in beautiful weather and not so much when they are bundled in the snow and rain.

- Mirka Ramsey, Accounting Lead

The Idea: Prizes and Public Recognition

We started with a weekly raffle, awarding tickets to all contributors and bonus tickets for the week’s best photos – all leading up to a cash prize drawing and winners that we celebrated at quarterly firm-wide meetings. After the first call for entries, staff responded with 54 pictures. Where had these all been hiding?

If we had only received those first 50 photos, that would have been a modest success. However, we were surprised and amazed that the photos kept coming week after week. We knew we had something special when, at the first quarter’s staff meeting, the photo contest became a highlight. It turned the meeting into an informal art exhibit, where the employees and their beautiful, funny, and, often times, poetic snapshots of field and office life were the stars of the show. The idea continued to gather steam and, by the end of the year, we’d received over 1,100 photos.

It’s awesome! I love seeing the work that other folks are doing. I think it improves our company culture: gives us something to talk about with staff we might not interact with otherwise, and also gives me a better sense of pride in some of the work that I’m doing when I share my photos.

- Hannah McDonough, Staff Geologist

The Takeaways

One thousand photos later, if there’s one general takeaway, it’s that being curious and asking staff what they are working on—and learning what they’re excited about—is always worthwhile. The photos gave our marketing team materials to help tell Aspect’s story, but also delivered an unexpected benefit: they shone a light on firm culture. Over the photo contest’s first year, we found that:

The field staff’s photos remind everyone of the aesthetics of working in environmental consulting – they are outdoors a lot in both beautiful settings and grimy conditions. It’s a way to appreciate the beauty and commiserate when things are grim.

It’s not just about the projects. We got many photos of what staff are doing outside of work –biking trails, climbing mountains, running races, vacationing in places sunnier than the Pacific Northwest.

Sharing our work brings staff of all levels together around firm culture and put names to faces before people may have met in person.

Aspect staff are now in the field, at industry functions, or just in the office, with an eye out for photo opportunities.

Submitting on a regular basis helps keep taking photos in the front of my mind so I have more photos of my projects which helps when putting together reports. I enjoy seeing others as it gives insight into what the rest of the company is up to. I often get a sense of a “can-do” attitude mixed with people enjoying what they are doing.

- Bryan Berkompas, Senior Hydrologist

A Hub for Storytelling

As the photo contest enters Year Two, the marketing team now has an established source of photos to illustrate our work in proposals and spotlight our culture for recruiting. Field staff have told us that taking photos helps them with their project work and report writing. And everyone enjoys seeing what our colleagues are up to and takes pride in our collective work.

Follow our photographers on Aspect’s Instagram page.

Meet Daniel Babcock!

Staff Scientist Daniel Babcock recently joined Aspect’s Seattle office. Here are five questions we asked to get to know him better.

Daniel Babcock - Staff Scientist

Daniel Babcock in Farmington, New Mexico

Daniel Babcock in Farmington, New Mexico

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

    I was born in Wichita, Kansas and had lived there my whole life up until now. After living in a place with no trees or mountains for 26 years, my wife and I decided it was time for a change of scenery! Western Washington satisfied everything we were looking for in a new home i.e., opportunities, mountains, trees, and multiple Chipotle locations.

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

    My background is in Geology and I fell in love with learning about the natural word—I also knew I didn’t want to work behind a computer 24/7. It seems to have worked out perfectly that I was able to find a career that allows me to combine my love for science while allowing me to work both in and outdoors.

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

    At the end of the day, it is rewarding work. There is a sense of pride that goes along with being part of a team that remediates sites and knowing that you contributed to that. It is work that feels bigger than yourself.

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

    I enjoy most things outdoors—hiking, backpacking, mountain climbing, camping, kayaking, downhill mountain Elk riding…well maybe one of those isn’t a real activity… yet. But, I also enjoy playing a few instruments like the guitar, bass, and ukulele.

  5. Where in the world would you like to travel next?

    It may not sound as cool as saying Paris or Australia but, I have always wanted to visit the New England area of the United States. I love history, and as far as the USA goes, there is a lot of history out there and I have never been out east before. So, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine, and Massachusetts are high on my list.

Aspect to Showcase Cutting-Edge Stormwater Technology at the Upcoming NEBC Stormwater Conference

What’s new in stormwater technology? Aspect staff will discuss some of the tools helping municipalities and industrial facilities manage stormwater in the Science Research portion of the NEBC Managing Stormwater in Washington conference, being held in Tacoma on Wednesday, March 6.

Aspect’s Senior Associate Water Resources Engineer Tom Atkins will moderate the “Expanding the Toolbox: Emerging Technologies” panel, with presentations by Aspect’s Associate Data Scientist Parker Wittman and Senior Environmental Scientist Brad Kwasnowski.

Their presentations will explore new technologies and applications in the stormwater world, including advancements in:

  • Comprehensive monitoring networks harnessing the power of cloud technology

  • LID BMP infeasibility web maps streamlining land use planning

  • Real-time field testing for heavy metals powered by DNA

  • Permeable pavement enhancements providing cost-effective improvements

  • Forensic analysis – steps towards fingerprinting

Aspect is also a proud sponsor of the conference. You can learn more about it here, and if you’re attending, make sure to stop and say hello!