What to Do When Your Office Moves: Plant 900 Trees

Taking advantage of a day out of the office during our Seattle office move, the Aspect Community Team (ACT) partnered with Stewardship Partners and Carnation Farms to help with their ongoing riparian restoration efforts along the Snoqualmie River. It was a sunny, beautiful October day, and the fall colors were rich throughout the valley. Eleven employees make the trek to Carnation and spent a few hours planting shrubs and trees including western red cedar, snowberry, salmonberry, and cottonwoods. We had help from four stewardship partner field crew who also placed cottonwood stakes among the trees and shrubs.

Aspect’s volunteer staff donated their day to plant over 900 trees along the Snoqualmie River to help Stewardship Partners and Carnation Farms.

Why Carnation Farms? A brief history:

In 1908, the first 360 acres of farmland were purchased, and Carnation Farms was created. Now the farm totals 818 acres and includes an 8-acre organic garden, educational programs, event space, hiking trails, and is bordered by a stretch of the Snoqualmie River. A byproduct of the agricultural growth in the region was the destruction of the natural riparian ecosystems along the river throughout the valley. Stewardship Partners has been working with Carnation Farms to restore the habitat along the Snoqualmie River as a component to their adopt-a-buffer program.

Why is riparian habitat restoration important?

Planting native trees and shrubs is the primary component of restoration and maintenance of healthy riparian ecosystems. As Stewardship Partners explains, the strips of native trees and shrubs provide cooling shade, control erosion and provide habitat for hundreds of fish and wildlife species. Trees and shrubs actively absorb air pollution throughout their lifetime, storing carbon and fighting climate change.

What is the impact of a half-day of service?

In about 3-4 hours of diligent work we planted 960 shrubs, trees, and stakes across approximately 0.5 acres of riparian habitat along the Snoqualmie River. This effort would have taken at least a week without the ACT volunteers. Stewardship Partners will do some maintenance the area and in about a year we should be able to see if our efforts truly take root.

Previous and ongoing ACTivities and service projects:

Aspect has partnered with Stewardship Partners previously for the design and installation of the Carnation Elementary School raingarden. The raingarden installation is part of a greater 12,000 Rain Gardens effort, and Aspect is also in coordination for another volunteer raingarden project! Stewardship Partners has been a great organization to work with and Aspect is a proud supporter-- pro-bono technical design, education and consulting services, volunteer labor, and funding.

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!

Aspect's Summer of Sports

For many Aspect staffers, the dry summer months are usually spent out in the field. This season, it was true in more ways than one. Our summer was bookended by sporting events that took us out into the “fields” down the street from our Seattle office. 

In June, the women of Aspect attended a Seattle Mariners matinee game vs. the Philadelphia Phillies at Safeco Field. Adorned in matching tees made especially for the outing, the group indulged in gigantic soft pretzels and other ballpark sundries in between cheering for pitcher Felix Hernandez’s fine outing and the Mariners’ three home runs of the day.

In August, Aspect staff was three rows strong (and several garlic fry orders deep) at Century Link Field as the Seattle Sounders took on the Portland Timbers. Despite both team’s valiant efforts and the ever-present cheers from the crowd, the final score was 1-1. The tie may be frustrating for most fans, but it did make for far less tension between the Seattle and Portland offices at staff meetings the next morning. 

Finally, in September, two Aspect teams (Aspect Earth and Aspect Water) participated in the 2017 Kickball Without Borders Event - a fundraiser organized by the Puget Sound Chapter of Engineers Without Borders for its international projects in Nicaragua, Uganda, and Sierra Leone. We showed up, we tried hard, we had fun, and we exited the tournament early with pulled hammies and bruised egos. There's always next year!   

A big-screen Mariners welcome for Aspect's ladies

The Women of Aspect and their custom tees

The ladies' vantage point for the Mariners' matinee

The Aspect crew catches the last rays of sun at the Sounders match

The Aspect crew catches the last rays of sun at the Sounders match

The Sounders at sunse

Can you spot the Space Needle?

Aspect Earth and Aspect Water kickball teams

Staff Meeting at 6200 ft.

An impromptu Aspect staff meeting took place atop Mount Townsend (ele. 6,260 ft.) on the Olympic Peninsula last weekend. Staffers Henry Haselton and Dave McCormack were hiking along one of the trails when they ran into their colleague Na Hyung Choi, who had started up from the Upper Trailhead earlier in the day.

Items on the agenda included the gorgeous array of wildflowers and various streams created from the melting snowpack. But the main topic of discussion was the breathtaking view, which included Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount Rainier, Mount Adams, the faintest hint of Mount St. Helens, and Puget Sound stretched out like a cat at their feet.

When Science Meets Bike to Work Month

With May just wrapped up, Aspect's annual participation in Bike to Work Month is in the books! This year, 40 Aspect employees participated in the Washington Bikes Bike Everywhere Challenge. All month long, we logged our bike rides and commuting mileage to and from our offices in Bainbridge Island, Bellingham, Portland, Seattle, Wenatchee, and Yakima to compete with other Washington Architecture and Engineering firms for the coveted 2017 A&E Bike to Work Month trophy. 

The highly coveted (depending on who’s asking) Golden Helmet that Aspect won in the A&E section of the 2016 Bike-to-Work challenge.

The highly coveted (depending on who’s asking) Golden Helmet that Aspect won in the A&E section of the 2016 Bike-to-Work challenge.

For some Aspect-ians, it isn’t enough to just ride bikes around to compete for a prize. Bike to Work Month presents the perfect opportunity to strap some expensive field gear to our bikes and mix a little science into our weekend rides. On a recent weekend, an Aspect team set out to do just this by testing two different GPS mapping devices along trails in the beautiful Chelan-Douglas Land Trust in the Wenatchee Valley.

Watch the video for a firsthand look at the trail ride.

Accuracy is at the heart of our Data and Mapping studio group. Some mapping devices are more accurate than others. A little extra effort selecting the right piece of gear before rolling out to a site visit can lead to the creation of a better dataset to help get the job done. The difference in GPS device accuracy can be hard to appreciate by reading raw numbers from a manufacturer’s specifications, but a visual presentation can drive the message home and show how your data can be improved by selecting the right device.

To demonstrate the importance of using the right tool for the job, a senior GIS analyst and her loyal canine sidekick chose to ride a loop of the Sage Hills trail system to put two common tools of the trade to the test – the Apple iPad Mini (tablet GPS) and the Trimble R1 submeter (submeter GPS).

Apple iPad Mini (left) and the Trimble R1 Submeter (right)

Apple iPad Mini (left) and the Trimble R1 Submeter (right)

After their ride, the team dropped by Aspect’s Wenatchee office and crunched the data, mapping out the trails tracked by both the tablet GPS and the submeter GPS. While the calculated overall ride length varied by only a few percentage points between the two devices, a close inspection of the data revealed dramatic variation in the projection of the trail lines over an aerial image. As shown in the photos below, the path tracked by the tablet GPS typically deviated +/- 16 feet away from the trail mapped by the submeter GPS and contradicted the trail lines visible in the overlaid aerial photos.

 This disparity is a case study in why the tablet GPS can be a good tool for recording a general site location, while the submeter GPS excels at capturing the integrity of the details at a site. The Aspect team’s efforts demonstrated the importance of high quality tools for quality data—and high quality bike rides!

Dog Days

After a day of back-to-back-to-back planning meetings, 12 hours of checking monitoring wells in pouring rain, driving 200 miles to and from a project site, or cranking out the last section of a 100-page report, Aspect staffers are often in need of a friendly face. Luckily, we are backed by a devoted group of canine consultants that advise us on all things comforting, charming, and cute. Our four-legged friends are fuzzy therapy in the field, office, and at home. Below are stories of some of the dogs, both living and living on in our memories, who never fail to put a smile on our faces.

FRODO

There is hardly a day you will find me at the office without Frodo, who has been coming with me to work since we rescued him at five weeks old in January 2015, and essentially grew up in the Bainbridge office. On the rare occasion that I walk into the office without him, I often get bombarded with concerned people wondering what’s wrong, where he is, and why he’s not with me. Thanks to Frodo, my office is often a pit stop for people on their way to get lunch, grab a piece of candy, or simply when they need a little stress reliever or a smile. Even when things get a little stressful in my corner of the office, it’s nothing a short walk or potty break outside with him can’t fix. In addition to that he has helped me form relationships with a lot of Aspect employees I am now lucky enough to call my friends. Maybe I’m biased, but Frodo feels like such a part of the Bainbridge office I honestly can’t imagine the day without him!

- Meghan Lawson Project Assistant

STELLA

Stella is a good companion and always enjoys keeping me company. When I see her lying about, she always reminds me to stay relaxed.

- Eric Marhofer, Senior Remediation Engineer

CARBON

Carbon doesn’t spend much time in the Wenatchee office – mostly because she’s a fieldwork dog! The Wenatchee office typically has to cover a lot of ground every week so Carbon and I do a lot of traveling together to serve the greater Central and Eastern Washington areas. Sometimes, Carbon just comes along to keep me company during overnight sampling adventures or on routine maintenance trips to far reaching weather stations. Other times, she bounces along in the pickup bed and waits patiently as I inspect various bits of infrastructure on a local farm or orchard. Wenatchee is a small town and Carbon has been my most surprising means to building strong client relationships. I’ve accidentally been introduced to more than one client through Carbon befriending their dogs at the dog park or through a local sheep herding event. Now I just have to teach her to start writing reports!

-  Taylor Dayton, Staff Water Resources Engineer

BANJO

Banjoboy isn’t a big fan of the office. Too much work and not enough cuddles. He’s much happier out in Horse Heaven Hills. He likes guarding the driver’s seat while I run a pumping test. It’s an exhausting job, but somebody’s gotta do it.

- Aaron Pruitt, Project Hydrogeologist

KASSI

My first baby, Kassi dog passed away recently at 14 ½ years old.  My husband, JB, and I picked her up from an animal shelter in Shelton, WA in April 2002.  As the runt of her litter, she had escaped and was picked up wondering the streets.  Kassi was a tough little runt, but had separation anxiety.  We learned pretty quickly that we could not leave her at home as she destroyed everything: crates, carpet, flooring, and walls.  She was trying to get out and be with her pack, not destroy just because she was mad.  So began the take your dog everywhere routine.  Luckily, she enjoyed being in the car and never damaged it.  Kassi enjoyed going to construction sites with me and Neah Bay with JB (photos attached).  She was very smart and brought us loads of happiness.  Seeing a dog with their owner, always brings a smile to my face. 

- Ali Dennison, Senior Project Geologist

AUGI

This is my dog Augie. He is a Corgi and Aussie Shepherd mix, known as an “Augi” mix. He runs a hard bargain negotiating for food from my daughter at her play table. Like most corgis he sleeps on his back like a human. He lives by the corgi mantra “I don’t always bark, but when I do its usually at nothing”. For that reason, he doesn’t come to the office.

- Nick Szot, Senior Project Geotechnical Engineer

HUNTER

In loving memory of Hunter, who we lost recently. This picture was taken just after a snuggle session with my youngest daughter. 

- Eric Knoedler, Staff Hydrogeologist

COSMO

I've only brought Cosmo to work a couple of times maybe 7 or 8 years ago due to the travel logistics but it was really fun when I did because I could show him off. After all, he is the best dog in the world! Cosmo lives to go on adventures.  We run in the Vashon forest every Saturday, whenever I can. He trained with me for a marathon and many other endurance events including distance swims. These days as he is slowing down, he likes to go fishing with me as shown on the attached pictures.

- Henry Haselton, Principal Geotechnical Engineer

BAMBOO

Bamboo, best supporting actor (faux service dog category). He hovers close to Lori just in case she might benefit from giving him a few pets.

- Doug Hillman, Principal Hydrogeologist

COOPER

I love bringing Cooper to work!  Plus, Cooper loves coming to work as some of his favorite people work at Aspect…not to mention his fondness for cleaning up the crumbs from under people’s desks.  Having a dog in the work place tends to bring down stress levels and gives you a great excuse to get up from your desk and take a walk outside.

- Kirsi Longley, Senior Project Environmental Scientist

MYKA & CADENCE

Office dogs help to provide a connection with my colleagues. My dogs encourage me to get up and walk away from my desk to get more face-to-face time with coworkers. Their silly antics also give a refreshing perspective (as you can see in the picture of Myka taking a crazy nap!) for not only me but my fellow coworkers. This has proven crucial on many occasions, most importantly when we have stressful and busy deadlines! Time with my dogs helps me keep perspective on work-life balance. I’m ever grateful for the opportunities that sharing my dogs with my colleagues has opened up for me. They’ve helped me find myself in conversations that lead to especially interesting and challenging project work, and keep folks coming back to me for collaboration.   

- Robyn Pepin, GIS Analyst

TESLA

Tesla has only come in with me once so far, but I think she had a good time.  She loves people and attention, and is the best lap warmer ever.

- Lea Beard, Senior Staff Data Scientist

HANK

Hank is the strangest and most loyal dog I’ve known. He’s somehow both fearless and completely neurotic, and an escape artist who is too smart for his own good. His favorite activities are clearly snuggling and tug of war, but he’s also been known to enjoy rock climbing, jumping fences, standing completely still and staring at the wall for long periods of time, and impersonating Chewbacca. All around, he’s a pretty awesome mutt!  

-  Seann McClure, Project Hydrogeologist

Ookii

He's a sweetheart to a fault.  He's the only dog I know who shares his toys, treats, and even his food.

- Michael Totin, Network/Systems Administrator

PIPER

Piper is a 9-year-old German Wirehaired Pointer.  She loves tennis balls, chasing squirrels, swimming, and being pet on the head. Sometimes she is lucky enough to come to the office with me, which is great for her because there are a lot of people who will pet her cute, shaggy head. I like having her in the office because she reminds me to get up from my desk every once in a while and take a walk. And because I get a lot more visitors to my office when she is here…everyone loves Piper!

- Carla Brock, Associate Geologist

MILES

Miles is part lab/part horse making him a tough fit for the office life. Combine that with the fact that my colleague always whips him into a frenzy and he doesn’t get to visit the office very much…but that’s okay, he has some fun two-legged buddies at home to keep him busy.

- Andrew Holmson, Senior Geotechnical Engineer

ARTIE

Artie is a yellow lab with a characteristically friendly disposition.  He loves going outside and is a great rock climbing partner with his impressive ability to scale steep surfaces.  Although he generally wants to be friends with everyone, he has a hilarious fear of small dogs andcats. 

- Bracken Capen, Senior Staff Engineer

Aspect Tours the Entiat National Fish Hatchery

It’s early August in central Washington. Three blocks from Aspect’s Wenatchee office, the Columbia River rolls downstream on its way to the Pacific Ocean. Beneath the surface, adult Chinook salmon swim upstream, returning from the sea to the rivers where they were born. Some of these fish are destined for the Entiat River and may eventually find themselves climbing the ladder to the Entiat National Fish Hatchery (ENFH).

Although all salmon hatcheries share a similar goal of producing fish, they each have unique characteristics that influence the way in which they operate. Aspect’s Wenatchee team is visiting ENFH today to learn about the specific challenges that Craig Chisam and Jason Reeves of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) face at their facility, and what they have done to solve them. Meeting with the operators directly, seeing systems in action, and asking questions helps Aspect build a collective understanding for problem solving that can be applied to help other hatchery facilities throughout the Pacific Northwest.

This isn’t the first time Aspect has been to ENFH. In 2014, hydrogeologists Joe Morrice and Tim Flynn performed an assessment of the hatchery’s existing water supplies and rights, and the condition of water-source infrastructure. Their recommendations for improving the hatchery’s access to a reliable supply of cold, clean water are being pursued by the USFWS. More water for the tanks and raceways means better rearing conditions for the 400,000 juvenile Chinook ENFH releases each year.

Following the tour, the group makes a stop along the Entiat to look for adult salmon moving upstream. Engineers Nick Szot and Ryan Brownlee, both avid fishermen, point at pools that hold fish and talk strategy. Some early morning soon, they will return to the river with rods and tackle. With some luck, they may head home with a fish that Craig and Jason helped raise.

The Aspect Team Turns Out for Another Great Ride to Defeat ALS

Over the past several years, Aspect has proudly sponsored the Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association’s fight to end ALS. Every summer, the Evergreen Chapter of ALS puts on the Ride to Defeat ALS -- a one-day team bike challenge to support this worthy cause. The Aspect team rode as part of "Lori's Crew"-- in support of Aspect alumni Lori Herman. Over 40 Aspect employees, family, and friends biked down the Snohomish County Centennial Trial to raise an eye-popping $25,000.

Learn more about the ALS Association.

GIS Day Roundup

Aspect commemorated GIS Day, a part of Geography Awareness Week, with a spirited celebration featuring maps, trivia, and cake. 

The festivities kicked off with a presentation by Senior Data Scientist Parker Wittman, highlighting some of the GIS team’s work over the last year. They have developed innovations using Fulcrum in concert with Google Earth, EQuIS, and other software to make field testing, sampling, and reporting much more efficient. Citing specific work Aspect has done for the Port of Seattle at SeaTac Airport, Parker demonstrated how the systems we’ve created are helping the Port assess the potential impacts proposed construction/redevelopment would have on the existing stormwater infrastructure and keep the existing mass of ever-updating data organized and easily accessible. Our team is strategically employing automated tools where it can save projects time and money.

Later in the day, we cut the cake as the GIS team set out to stump the rest of us with several rounds of GIS / geography-related trivia questions. 

Of course, a GIS Day celebration would not be complete without an informative map. The GIS team polled staffers on all the places they’ve lived throughout their lives. Using the analytical software Tableau, they created this lovely lattice crisscrossing the world. 

Geology Field Trip!

More than 30 members of Aspect’s technical staff participated in a regional geology workshop. The workshop was led by Puget Lowland geology guru Kathy Troost of the University of Washington and Troost Geosciences.  Friday morning was devoted to lectures and discussion of the geology of the area, and in the afternoon participants got their hands dirty practicing identifying and classifying samples of local soils. Saturday, Ms. Troost led the group to the classic field locations for regional geology: Alki Point, Mee-Kwa-Mooks Park,  Herrings’s House Park on the Duwamish, Discovery Park, and ended with an overview at Kerry Park on Queen Anne. 

Aspect Summer BBQ!

Once again, Aspect celebrated summer by combining our three loves - steak, lobster, and yard games. Those of us in our Seattle office battled ferry lines and Seahawks football traffic to meet at beautiful Bainbridge Island’s Fay Bainbridge Park.

In addition to the 150lbs of lobster and the endless tri-tip steak, our crew brought four homemade cornhole sets and Kubb, a classic Scandinavian yard game. Beanbags were flying through the air until sundown. Last, and certainly not least, there was a pony!

Aspect Team Joins the Friendly Crowd

For the fifth year, Aspect hosted a group at the Seattle Sounders annual 'friendly' match with Europe's top teams. This year it was the Tottenham Hotspur FC. The Aspect fun started with an extra friendly spread of snacks in our Pioneer Square office located in the shadows of the soccer pitch. We then enjoyed the game where the Sounders made it an exciting match by twice taking the lead. The Hotspurs, using two penalty kicks, salvaged a 3-3 tie.

Celebrating Summer with Service

August 3, 2012.

Aspect again celebrated summer by combining our annual picnic/bbq with civic service. This year we sent volunteer crews out to two projects. Our beach crew worked with Puget Sound Restoration Fund sorting oysters growing on the organization’s Bainbridge Island community shellfish farm.

Our trail crew built a boardwalk at Heritage Park in Kingston to finish trail work we had first undertaken at our 2010 summer event.

With dogged perseverance under the midday sun, Aspect volunteers had the shellfish sorted and back in their grow bags well before the high tide came in to cover the farm area.

Meanwhile, the trail crew overcame creative differences in design to construct 50’ feet of 6-foot wide boardwalk over a streambed to replace a muddy section of the trail.

After successful completion of the projects, both groups convened in a backyard overlooking the Sound for a summer bbq of lobster, tri-tip, and (of course) fresh oysters.