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.
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.
This Seattle Times article provides an in-depth look at the complex mix of aging alpine dams, world-renowned wilderness area, and the potential of changing climate patterns in the Icicle Creek Subbasin. The spotlight’s on this North Central Washington region as the 6+ year Icicle Creek Subbasin strategy hit a recent milestone with the release of the project’s Programmatic Environmental Impact Statement.
Since 2012, Aspect has been the facilitation and technical lead for this effort, serving a broad working group of city and county agencies, tribes, fisheries, irrigators, and the community. The overall program is designed to improve instream flows, assist in agricultural sustainability, and provide for local domestic growth beyond the year 2050 at an investment of $82 million over the next 10 years.
As Seattle weathers the close of one historic stretch of Highway 99 and awaits the opening of a brand new one (at the time, the largest soft-ground tunnel bore in the world), we’re recapping a tale that played out in connection to one of the more dramatic milestones of the tunneling project: Bertha gets stuck.
In December 2013, the mega tunnel boring machine known as Bertha overheated and broke down 1,000 feet into its journey. Eager to keep the project moving, crews working for Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) quickly designed and excavated a deep rescue shaft to get in front of the stuck machine and repair it. It was a complicated effort to drill down to Bertha considering the unique geology and human history that has defined Seattle’s waterfront.
How an Inch of Displacement Can Cause Trouble
Stabilizing the ground to create the 130-foot-deep shaft required a significant amount of dewatering  that had to be done quickly. This dewatering caused the surrounding soils to settle much more than was anticipated from the planned tunnel construction—the settlement reached over a wide half-mile radius, and about an inch in some places, and even more than that close to the shaft.
An inch may not seem like a lot, but for the underground maze of City of Seattle (City) utility infrastructure, including aging, brittle water and sewer lines (some over 100 years old), any additional settlement was problematic. This unforeseen settlement was enough to trigger an expedited program to assess and replace the utilities where risks were unacceptably high. The City, in need of expertise on local geology, hydrogeology, tunneling, and soil behavior, brought on Aspect to investigate problems resulting from the rescue shaft construction and help design repairs.
Aspect’s role was four-fold: determine what parts of the City’s infrastructure were being most affected by the settlement; assess vulnerability of other areas further along the tunnel route; assist with geotechnical engineering recommendations for replacing infrastructure damaged by the settlement; and help the City understand the cause of the settlement.
Till + Fill + Development = Complex Subsurface Challenges
Our investigation started with an extensive review of the waterfront’s underlying geology. Deep beneath the City lies a complex history of multiple glacial advances and retreats, separated by long interglacial periods. Sediments from glaciations include tills, layers of glacial lake and marine silts and clays, and sheets of glacial outwash sand and gravel. These glacial soils are interbedded with floodplain silts and sands and gravelly channel deposits transported by rivers flowing from the surrounding mountains, including lahar deposits (large volcanic mudflows) from as far away as Mount Rainier.
These strata were deposited in more-or-less horizontal and generally orderly ways, then subsequently compressed and compacted by repeated advance of glacial ice sheets. In the Pioneer Square area, a present-day look at the resulting stratigraphy is, however, far from orderly, due to its setting within the Seattle fault zone. This zone of tectonic compression repeatedly ruptured during prehistoric earthquakes, and much of the strata are now sheared, tilted, overthrust, and truncated. All of this was then overlain by weak estuary, beach, and tide flat deposits—and then extensively modified by humans.
A major part of Aspect’s analysis focused on the location, thickness, and nature of the weak and shallow soils draped above the strong glacial soils, intertwined with the historical changes that occurred as Seattle developed its waterfront. The Pioneer Square area was a small upland Native Americans had lived on for millennia. Occidental Square was a shallow coastal lagoon, and most of the area south of King Street was tide flats. As timber and shipping industries flourished in the 1800s, much of the waterfront was developed with piers and trestle bridges, then filled with sawdust and wood waste from waterfront mills and soft muck sluiced from nearby hills.
On top of all that, roads, sewer lines, water lines, and buildings were constructed on the new ground. Not surprisingly, these weak fills have settled over time, resulting in bumpy roads, tilted sidewalks, and tall curbs in the Pioneer Square neighborhood. But these same soils were also highly susceptible to further consolidation when the water table was rapidly lowered by the Bertha rescue shaft dewatering.
Historical Record Sleuthing
To assess the areas of vulnerable underground utilities, we dug into the historical records—maps dating from the original land surveys of Seattle to locate the original shorelines, and previous drilling investigations going back decades to reveal the subsurface data. Aspect compiled soil records of hundreds of borings and wells to develop a database that could be mapped in three dimensions and used to identify the areas where weak soils were present. When combined with the City’s utility maps, Aspect’s weak-soils map allowed the City to easily spot areas where weak soils and vulnerable infrastructure overlapped.
Aspect also assisted the City in pursuing remote surface elevation surveying techniques including use of synthetic aperture radar (InSAR), a satellite-based radar distance measuring technique that permits detection of precise changes in ground surface elevation over time. These studies looked at time-series analysis of data beginning well before tunneling started through shaft dewatering and continuing to the time of the study. They showed an unmistakable correlation between rescue shaft dewatering and broad areas of ground settlement.
Dewatering: The Science of Making a Wet Excavation Dry
Dewatering the excavation required pumping, but at a rate and depth to keep water pressure low (too high could risk “blowing out” the bottom of the 130-foot-deep shaft). There are two aquifers beneath the rescue shaft site and Pioneer Square area – one shallow and one deep. Because the shaft bottom sat in the “deep” aquifer, pumping targeted that aquifer, which was thought to be confined from the shallow aquifer and the vulnerable utilities sitting above it.
However, because settlement happened in the shallow aquifer area, Aspect’s forensic analysis looked at answering several questions: how susceptible are the utilities to pumping a deep aquifer? Does pumping the deep aquifer cause dewatering of the much shallower aquifer? And if so, does pumping the deep aquifer or dewatering the shallow aquifer cause most of the settlement that the City was observing? Understanding the hydrogeologic connections between pumping the two aquifers and the net effects of dewatering on soil behavior required multidisciplinary consideration of many factors.
To understand the amount of shallow dewatering that had occurred, Aspect developed a comprehensive groundwater monitoring program that instrumented existing wells to collect data while the dewatering pumps were running. Then, once the pumps were shut off, before and after comparisons of water levels could be made to see the changes brought on by dewatering. Data collection continued until dewatering had ceased and groundwater levels had returned to normal.
Fixing the Faults Caused by the Fault
Ultimately, the project team concluded that there had been localized impacts to the shallow aquifer that were related to pumping of the deep aquifer. Some of those impacts were the result of leakage from the shallow aquifer downward along the outside of the Bertha rescue shaft, and some from leakage between the shallow and deep aquifers that occurred along zones of disrupted strata that the Seattle fault created to form the complex geology below Pioneer Square. The data collected by our team provided strong support that the Bertha shaft dewatering caused enough settlement to require replacement of vulnerable utilities. This led to a program in 2015 to replace the large water main buried below Western Avenue, with Aspect providing the geologic analysis used for the design. The drive along Western Avenue is now much smoother, and the section of new water main is now less vulnerable to the next big construction project or major earthquake.
Ironically, while past activity along the Seattle fault was largely responsible for the complex hydrogeology that made dewatering the Bertha rescue shaft a challenge, it was concerns about future rupture of the Seattle fault (or one of the other regional faults) that triggered replacing the Viaduct with the tunnel to begin with. This in turn led to the rebuilding of the waterfront seawall and reconstruction of Pier 62.
As some Aspect geologists are fond of saying – “geology explains everything.” With a site as complex as the Seattle waterfront, it takes an expert “read” of the geology and a skilled team of geologists, hydrogeologists, and engineers to inform design for projects that make Seattle safer and better for the future.
The Waterfront’s Next Chapter – Highway 99 Tunnel
While the water main beneath Western Avenue was being replaced and groundwater monitoring continued, WSDOT crews had Bertha repaired and chugging along beneath the city, breaking into daylight near South Lake Union in April 2017. Seattle now awaits the opening of the tunnel Bertha cleared that will move traffic through the complex web of geology, hydrogeology, infrastructure, and development that makes up the Seattle waterfront.
WSDOT’s map shows the new Highway 99 tunnel through downtown Seattle to South Lake Union. Map credit: WSDOT
The story of environmental consulting projects often start with what the laboratory results tell us. However, all results are not created equal, and it’s important to know the big picture – site subsurface conditions, regulatory criteria, and chemistry principles – when uncovering culprit contaminants.
At one of Aspect’s recent, ongoing Technical Exchanges, Staff Scientist Andrew Yonkofski invited Mike Erdahl from Environmental Laboratory Friedman and Bruya to discuss the role of analytical chemistry in environmental consulting, including general petroleum chemistry, gas chromatography, and interpreting those results. Part of the discussion was focused on an Aspect-specific case study from a Seattle-area waterfront site. This site presents a unique look at how organic matter in the subsurface can affect results from the NWTPH-Dx analysis.
Lessons learned from the talk included:
Common petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures, such as gasoline and diesel, contain thousands of unique organic compounds. The NWTPH-Gx and NWTPH-Dx analytical methodologies attempt to capture the wide range of organic compounds found in petroleum hydrocarbon mixtures.
While the laboratory provides a reproduceable, quantifiable number for total petroleum hydrocarbon (TPH) results, those results often need to be interpreted in light of the chromatographic results. For instance, the higher boiling end of gasoline overlaps into the diesel-range. As the gasoline weathers, the proportion of material in the diesel range increases in relation to the total TPH value. Qualifying the diesel results as overlap from gasoline contamination can reduce the number of site-specific contaminant of concerns.
Likewise, results using both the NWTPH-Gx and NWTPH-Dx methodologies can sometimes include organic compounds from natural sources including degradation of organic material in the subsurface.
To properly characterize a site, environmental consultants must use multiple lines of evidence to determine the nature and extents of contamination. This includes interpreting analytical results and the associated chromatograms in the context of the historical site use.
Senior Hydrologist James Packman recently presented to “Planning as a Profession,” a senior-level urban planning class in the College of the Built Environment at the University of Washington. The nearly 30 students come from different majors and career trajectories—among them are future architects, landscape architects, city planners, urban designers, real estate professionals, construction managers, engineers, environmental scientists, and more.
James’ presentation, entitled “Environmental Skills, Water Resources, and Urban Planning,” gave a holistic view of environmental considerations in urban planning—from the skills and interests that lead a person to the profession and the different disciplines working in the industry to the laws and regulations that drive project design, permitting, and building and examples of water-focused planning. His overarching message focused on interdisciplinary skills, and he gave examples of Aspect projects where collaboration between disciplines was vital to address the environmental elements.
For example, the Waypoint Park project along Bellingham’s shoreline incorporated coastal geology, hydrogeology, stormwater management, civil and geotechnical engineering, landscape architecture, habitat restoration ecology, and more to reclaim a contaminated former industrial site to an urban waterfront park.
James also introduced the practical side of business consulting, or how people and firms pursue and win public work, and walked students through the Request for Qualifications / Request for Proposals process. His key message for being on winning teams is that it requires networking in and outside of one’s discipline and forging relationships with public agency staff to learn their needs.
He ended by going over a homework assignment about the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) checklist process and its key role in urban planning projects. The homework reinforced the variety of environmental disciplines—geology, hydrology, archeology, botany, wildlife biology, engineering, and more—along with professional skills—technical reading comprehension, writing, project management, public speaking, quantitative analysis, and more—that are needed to complete the checklist.
James will present to a new set of students when he returns to the class in Spring Quarter 2019.
The Seattle City Council recently approved the 2nd Redevelopment Opportunity Zone (ROZ) in Seattle’s history for the 700-unit Grand Street Commons housing development near the future Judkins Park light-rail station. The ROZ designation means that this innovative $20 Million private/non-profit partnership (Lake Union Partners and Mt. Baker Housing, respectively) now has direct access to state funds to build a 700-unit development—with about half of those units earmarked for affordable housing. These 350 future units, together with the 160 units planned at The Maddux (the City’s first ROZ zone near the Mt. Baker light-rail station), brings 500+ ROZ-designated affordable housing units coming online in the next five years in South Seattle.
Aspect, with law firm Perkins Coie, has helped Mt. Baker Housing pioneer this ROZ model to unlock state-backed grant funding in a first-of-its-kind model. Recognizing this success, the state introduced the Healthy Housing Program this fall– earmarked specifically for affordable housing developers looking at restoring land at brownfield sites.
Learn more about new approaches to restore land and find solutions for our affordable housing crisis here: www.aspectconsulting.com/affordablehousing.
Associate Data Scientist Parker Wittman and Senior Geospatial Data Scientist Blair Deaver will be on a panel — “The Art of the Helpful GIS Presentation” — this Thursday at NWGIS 2018 in Bremerton. The four-person panel presents on tips and techniques to deliver a GIS presentation at a conference or at the office. Parker will discuss ways to improve the delivery of a presentation and Blair will present on tips to master a successful technical demonstration.
ESRI President Jack Dangermond is giving the highly anticipated keynote speech at this year’s conference on the future of GIS.
No Further Action (NFA) determinations are Washington state’s sought-after finish line for regulatory closure of contaminated sites. An NFA is often the stepping stone for a property owner to secure financing for development of their property and alleviate concerns that their property won’t be put to productive use. NFAs are not easy to get—particularly for former dry cleaner sites, where perchloroethylene (PCE; a dry-cleaning solvent) is a common culprit that can keep a property in regulatory limbo and cause cleanup timelines to be counted in years.
Not a Typical Cleanup: Applying a Model Remedy at a Chlorinated Solvent Site
Aspect had a recent success story where we helped a client achieve an NFA by pursuing site closure through Ecology’s Initial Investigations program using a Model Remedy approach. The premise of this approach is that if you can completely address or clean up a release upon discovery, then you may be able to request an NFA at the initial investigation/reporting stage, thereby circumventing the Voluntary Cleanup Program process.
The project site, located in Kent, was a former dry cleaner with PCE impacts limited to shallow soil around the dry-cleaning machine. Following Aspect’s Phase I/II ESA investigation as part of a pending property transaction, we implemented a cleanup action after our client purchased the property. The space inside the store was limited, and the excavation was surgical. Confirmation soil sample results following the excavation were below Model Toxics Control Act (MTCA) Method A cleanup levels. Instead of entering the VCP and facing delays with Ecology’s backlog of VCP sites, we instead reported the release to Ecology within the framework of a Remedial Investigation and Cleanup Action Report, with the completed excavation and off-site disposal of contaminated soil presented as a model remedy.
Reducing Risk and Uncertainty
After follow up discussion and negotiation with Ecology’s Initial Investigations coordinator, the site recently received an NFA. Though there may not be many PCE-impacted sites where the contamination is limited to shallow soil, it pays to know the options if this is the case. Model remedies are more commonly applied to petroleum-impacted sites. However, because Aspect was on the lookout and understood the regulatory framework for achieving closure, we were able to help our client significantly reduce risk and uncertainty when weighing prospective property purchases.
The Model Remedy approach is a strategy that Aspect has used on several sites with success and, under the right set of circumstances, can be an efficient regulatory pathway for property owners seeking an NFA.
As we near 20 years in business, Aspect has moved its Seattle office to a new address and bigger space in Seattle’s iconic Dexter Horton building. Our expanding client base and growing staff—now over 100 strong across seven offices in Washington and Oregon—is driving the move.
“The Pacific Northwest is thriving and so is the demand for our earth and water services,” says Tim Flynn, Aspect’s President. “This move represents the culmination of almost two decades of upward growth driven by clients in the Seattle market and throughout the Pacific Northwest.”
The Dexter Horton building—located in the heart of Seattle—has a combination of grand architectural aesthetic with innovative modern features. The 1926 building is a historical landmark as well as LEED Gold-certified. Aspect’s office on the 5th floor was designed intentionally to provide clients and staff with a variety of ways to collaborate, including open layout areas and comfortable meeting spaces.
Come visit us at 710 Second Ave, Suite 550, Seattle, WA 98104!
Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton, PE, PMP, and Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack, LEG, LHG, will serve as co-chairs on the upcoming Landslides program for The Seminar Group on Thursday, October 25, 2018, at 9 am the Washington Athletic Club. This seminar covers the science behind slope movement and landslides in Washington and discusses the liability concerns for a wide audience of attorneys, claims professionals, and real estate experts. Henry and Dave’s presentation will focus on the science of landslides, including the different types, their causes, and methods for stabilization.
On October 18th and 19th, ECOSS will be hosting 201X: Advanced Stormwater Management, a two-day workshop that looks at Industrial Stormwater General Permit (ISGP) requirements and compliance. This event is geared toward helping permittees, consultants, and engineers gain a deeper understanding of the permit by presenting several case studies and touring industrial sites with installed treatment technologies.
Aspect’s Tom Atkins will present the case study, “Alternative Pathways to Achieving Level 3 Corrective Action Requirements.” His presentation will include 3 case studies featuring roof downspout filters, pressurized filtration, adsorptive media, and discharge to publicly owned treatment works (POTW).
Learn more about the workshop HERE.
Aspect’s Curtis Nickerson and Bryan Berkompas recently participated in a Hackathon with The Nature Conservancy and Microsoft employees. The Hack for Good event focused on developing low-cost stormwater monitoring solutions that could identify pollutants and collect data in real time.
The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) – Seattle Section has a new President-Elect: Aspect’s Principal Engineer Henry Haselton.
Henry was voted in by the Seattle Section in June. He will serve as President-Elect under incoming President Eset Alemu this year, and then transition to President in October 2019. Henry has been a member of the ASCE since joining the student chapter 26 years ago and has served on several committees, most recently as Program Co-Chair, where he was tasked with brainstorming meeting topics and recruiting speakers for the section’s monthly dinner meetings.
As part of his transition to President-Elect, Henry attended the ASCE Region 8 Fall Assembly Meeting in Spokane, where he met leadership from all the western states and ASCE National President Kristina Swallow. Attendees were treated to an “engineers tour” of the Grand Coulee dam, where they learned about the inner workings of the dam from an experienced operator at the facility.
Henry also recently attended the ASCE President and Governors Forum (PGF) Event in Washington D.C., where he participated in trainings with ASCE leaders from around the world. The PGF training provides best practices to effectively lead a Section/Branch.
Henry is joined by other Aspect colleagues in the ASCE Seattle Section. Project Geotechnical Engineer Spencer Ambauen, EIT, is taking over Henry’s position as Program Co-Chair. Staff Engineer Mari Otto, EIT, is in her second term as Host and Hospitality Co-Chair, where she coordinates with the host venue and oversees meeting registration.
Aspect’s ASCE team kicked off the 2018-2019 season earlier in September with presentations on the upcoming demolition of the SR99 Viaduct and the Pier 62 Replacement, a project where Aspect is the geotechnical engineer-of-record. The ASCE Seattle Section Geotechnical Group’s first dinner meeting of the season was on Thursday, September 27 in Seattle. Professor Russell A. Green, PhD, a Professor of Civil Engineering at Virginia Tech, spoke on region-specific probabilistic liquefaction hazard analyses through a pilot study done in the Netherlands due to induced seismicity from natural gas production. Learn about upcoming events here.
See Washington State Department of Ecology’s new article covering the state’s new Healthy Housing Remediation Program for restoring contaminated land to promote affordable housing. Mt. Baker Housing’s 160-unit project in South Seattle — which Aspect is leading the cleanup for — was the inspiration for this program.
Learn more here: https://www.aspectconsulting.com/affordablehousing
Aspect recently led a first-of-its-kind approach to help the City of SeaTac (City) understand water quality requirements at the land use planning stage. Aspect, along with Robin Kirschbaum, developed publicly-available webmaps that visualize stormwater infiltration potential at a parcel level across the City’s 10 square miles. These maps will help both City planners as well as developers screen development options with infiltration requirements and make this step of the land use planning process much more efficient.
Take a look at the interactive Story Map for this exciting new tool here: https://maps.aspectconsulting.com/lidmapjournal/index.html.
Aspect’s Principal Geotechnical Engineer Henry Haselton and Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack will participate as faculty at The Seminar Group's Landslides program on October 25, 2018 at the Washington Athletic Club in Seattle. This seminar covers the science behind slope movement and landslides in Washington and discusses the liability concerns for a wide audience of attorneys, claims professionals, and real estate experts.
In July's Storm Water Solutions magazine, Aspect's Tom Atkins writes about the challenge and successful problem-solving approach taken to help a Puget Sound industrial client meet stormwater runoff benchmarks to protect water quality in Seattle's Elliott Bay.
Read the story here: https://www.estormwater.com/meeting-benchmarks
Rocks have histories and their histories tell us stories.
This was the underlying theme of Aspect’s recent seminar on central Washington geology, led by esteemed experts Dr. Kathy Troost, LG, of Troost Geosciences and the University of Washington and Dr. Eric Cheney, Geology Professor Emeritus at UW. While topography alone makes clear the relevance of geology to the eastern Washington landscape, less sure is how the regional setting impacts the realm of projects—those distinct points on and below the ground where Aspect’s earth science and engineering work enters in.
Over two days in June, staff from across Aspect’s offices came together to learn about big-picture geology and earth processes related to 66 million years of local history, and then travel to the outcrops to see the deposits firsthand. Woven throughout were the contributions of each person’s unique experiences with geology and relevant insights from nearby project sites. Together, the balance provided each of us the tools to make sense of an otherwise complex landscape; a way to break it down into manageable pieces, put it back together, and learn what it has to tell.
Aspect’s water law expert, Dan Haller, will be presenting on Water Banking for Agricultural Water Supplies at the 27th Annual Water Law in Washington conference (June 14-15). This year’s conference focuses on major legislative changes, new case law, and important practical information for water rights and resource management in the State of Washington.