Kicking Off a Yearlong Look into Kitsap Peninsula’s Groundwater Supply

Over the next year, one 900-foot-deep well in Silverdale, Washington will play a key role to help forecast future water needs for Kitsap County communities. A unique year-long pumping test led by Kitsap PUD, with support from Aspect, will produce a treasure trove of water data to evaluate groundwater supply, pumping effects on other groundwater sources, and impacts to streamflows. The well will be pumped continuously at a rate of 1,000 gallons per minute and the effects of the high pumping rate will be measured across a 50+ well network. While pumping tests are a common tool in a hydrogeologist’s tool kit, the year-long length of this test is rare. “Hydrogeologist’s dream of doing this kind of aquifer test,” said Joel Purdy of Kitsap PUD.

Read more about this exciting project in this article from the Kitsap Sun.

Major Milestone at Complex Pasco Landfill Cleanup to Remove 35,000 Drums of Waste

The Pasco Landfill Site reached a recent milestone from the State Department of Ecology. Ecology announced plans to remove over 35,000 drums from an industrial waste cell and haul away the worst contaminants for disposal. While the landfill received municipal solid waste from 1958 to 1993, industrial waste was received only during the early 1970s. Since 1992, over 32 entities have investigated and grappled with how to cleanup the Site. In 2014, cleanup planning for the latent industrial waste took a turn with the development of a subsurface fire and product observed at the water table. Aspect's landfill engineering team has been working on cleanup design engineering and strategies at this Site for over 12 years.

See Ecology's video to learn more about this project as well as the current public comment period, now open through October 3.

Aspect Geologist and Parent Welcomes New Blakely Elementary School

Ali Dennison, Senior Engineering Geologist - Photo by Luciano Marano | Bainbridge Island Review

With a new school year upon us, the Bainbridge Island Review has an overview of the last days of construction on Bainbridge Island’s new Blakely Elementary School. Aspect’s Geotechnical Engineering group has been involved with the project since 2016, from initial design phases through construction of the new 51,000 square foot school.

Aspect was founded in 2001 on Bainbridge Island, and we take particular pride in the projects we work on in our hometown. It’s especially meaningful for our Senior Engineering Geologist Alison Dennison—her son and daughter will start third and first grade, respectively, in the new Blakely building. Read more about Ali’s geologic investigations to support the project in the Bainbridge Island Review article.

40 Years and 2,500 Claimants Later: A Big Milestone for Washington State Water

This spring, after 42 years, the Aquavella adjudication is finally closing and claimants are receiving adjudicated certificates.  The importance of the adjudication can’t be overstated. 

  1. It provided certainty in priority dates for water users.

  2. It created the conditions necessary for water banking to thrive in the greater Yakima basin.

  3. It reset the relinquishment clock for water right holders.

  4. It sowed the seeds of the Yakima Integrated Plan, arguably the most ambitious multi-purpose watershed recovery effort in Washington State and a national model. 

Since 2001, Aspect has assisted in proving up beneficial use for adjudication claimants, conducted water studies supporting both permanent and drought transfers, assisted in hundreds of water right transactions, bought and sold water from water banks on behalf of our clients, and are running a water bank in the Yakima basin. 

All of this work was made possible by the hard work of agencies, attorneys, irrigation districts, farmers, cities, counties, and non-profit entities participating in the Acquavella adjudication.  The following video and article provide more context on the history and effort in pulling off this herculean effort.  Now all that is left for Ecology to decide is where in Washington State to go next!

Attracting Talent – Simple Steps, Great Results

Lindsay Pearsall - Director of Human Resources

Earth science and engineering firms are in a buyer’s market in 2019. Anyone in a leadership position in the Architectural/ Engineering/ Construction industry knows the mantra of “Always Be Recruiting.” At Aspect, we are no different. Our success (and our clients’) hinges on our ability to find and retain the most talented consultants in our industry. It’s essential, then, that our Human Resources department takes a very thoughtful approach to finding and hiring this top-tier talent.

Recently, at RecruitMAX 2019 – one of the A/E/C industry’s top professional industry conferences—Aspect’s HR Director Lindsay Pearsall shared a segment of her approach with a presentation “How to Build a REAL Candidate Pipeline with Phone Interviews and Informational Interviews.”

Some takeaways of Lindsay’s presentation are:

  • Why treating your candidate like a client should be your #1 priority

  • Conducting informational interviews to go beyond your current hiring needs

  • Simple solutions, like how and when to follow up with individuals, to maintain relationships

Lindsay’s presentation stressed that hiring managers need to remember how difficult it is to be a candidate. By flipping the script and treating candidates like a client, we are able to humanize the experience. Whether someone is hired or not, they should have an expectation of a positive experience and feel valued as a professional and as a human.

See current job openings for Aspect here:

Clean, Cold Water at the Entiat Hatchery Means Healthy Fish

Earlier this spring, fisheries managers made a startling announcement: there would be no recreational salmon fishing in the Columbia River or its tributaries in 2019. Simply put, there weren’t enough fish to go around.

Aspect Angler Jordan Sanford with a catch on the Enitat

Then, the unexpected happened. Day by day and fish by fish, the number of salmon ascending the Columbia River grew. By early July, increasing counts of summer-run Chinook returning to the upper Columbia made it clear that broodstock goals for regional hatchery programs would indeed be met. On July 11, the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife shared some exciting news: local anglers would have a salmon-fishing season after all.

As showcased in a recent article in the Wenatchee World, one reason for this year’s fishing season is strong returns of adult Chinook to the Entiat National Fish Hatchery. In 2014, Aspect hydrogeologists assessed the hatchery’s water supplies and rights, and the condition of their infrastructure. Aspect’s recommendations helped improve the hatchery’s access to a reliable supply of clean, cold water—one of many factors that contribute to healthy juvenile fish and hard-fighting adults at the end of an angler’s line.

Perspectives on Water Resources Engineering: Taylor Dayton in the Zweig Newsletter

Taylor Dayton, Project Engineer

Taylor Dayton, Project Engineer

Aspect’s Taylor Dayton was recently interviewed in the Zweig Newsletter on a range of topics — from transitioning from working at NASA as a biochemist to an engineer, to learning water rights legends, project management lessons learned, and navigating an early career in the water resources field.

Read about it here: Apple orchards and water rights

Reducing Washington State Drought Impacts in the Okanogan River Basin

In both the northern reaches, high desert region, and even the Olympic Peninsula—literally one of the wettest places in the lower 48 states historically—summer 2019 is a serious drought year in Washington State. Earlier this spring, the governor declared a drought emergency, which was able to unlock emergency relief options and funding for 27 watersheds across the entire state. In the Methow, Okanogan, and upper Yakima River watersheds, it’s particularly bad. Based on current forecasting, the Okanogan is expected to be at 58 percent of normal, and curtailment notification letters have already been sent to local water users. However, this drastic forecast has prompted forward thinking. 

In partnership with the Washington State Department of Ecology (Ecology), the Oroville-Tonasket Irrigation District (OTID) has developed a “water bank” in the Okanogan River basin to help regional water users impacted by the drought. The water bank will be used to support instream flows and to assist “junior” water users during periods of curtailment. OTID is seeding the bank with two of its senior water rights. In 2018, Ecology, with assistance from Aspect, certified these water rights through the state’s Certified Water Right Examiner process. 

Ecology is working to complete the required permitting to place the water rights in the state’s Trust Water Right Program (TWRP) to create the water bank (read more about water banks on Ecology’s website). This water bank will be seeded with about 7,500 acre feet of water, which will be made available for drought relief. From this bank, eligible water users can “withdraw” water for both irrigation and municipal or domestic uses.

 More information can be found at the following website:

Waiting for Water - the Columbia Basin Project

Aspect works routinely with clients suffering from declining groundwater supplies. From conservation and planning projects to aquifer storage and recovery (ASR) projects, Aspect is at the forefront of this issue. ASR projects in Othello and White Salmon are underway now that will assist in long-term certainty for public water supplies in the future. In agriculture, we are partnering with Washington State University to forecast how declining water supplies will affect commercial crop reliability and assessing the conservation, storage, and water marketing tools that exist both locally and regionally to assist them. One of the largest declining groundwater areas in the state is in the Columbia Basin.

This video “Waiting for Water – The Columbia Basin Project” produced by the Columbia Basin Development League is a great introduction into the complexities of these issues for farmers in Washington. Aspect staff assisted in the permitting and environmental review for this project.

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 clearly 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: Ecology is also hosting three more public hearings where comments can be given in person:  

Contact Owen Reese at 206-838-5844 or 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, or learn more about prospective purchaser consent decrees, funding, and redeveloping contaminated land for affordable housing at

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


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.

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.

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.

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.