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

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

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

The Kroll map hanging in Aspect's Seattle office

How Will We Hold Up to The Cascadia Megaquake?

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

New Cascadia quake analysis shows building retrofits could save many lives

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

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

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

Source: USGS

Source: USGS

Join International Development Discussion on February 20 During Engineers Week

On February 20 at Pyramid Alehouse in Seattle, join Aspect's Principal Geologist Dave Cook and other panelists for an Engineers Without Borders-hosted panel discussion on the role of engineering in international development. 

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If you are interested in international development and want to use your engineering skills to make a positive impact, please consider joining us. Our panel will consist of speakers from the following non-profit organizations that are devoted to using the tools of engineering, planning, and design in order to build a better world.

  • Engineers Without Borders USA (Represented by Dave Cook): In the world's toughest places, EWB-USA is partnering with communities at home and around the world to meet their basic human needs through sustainable engineering projects. A dynamic organization with over 16,000 members nationwide, Dave Cook has served as the President and on the Board of Directors for EWB-USA in year's past.  
  • Construction for Change (Represented by Kevin Hunter): Construction for Change (CFC) builds spaces where people struggling with oppression can become healthier, learn, and increase their economic mobility. They partner with organizations that provide life-changing resources but have outgrown their facilities or seek to expand the service they offer. Mr. Hunter has been Executive Director of CFC since November 2016, leading the organization to develop a sustainable and scalable model to expand the reach of the organization around the globe, and his previous experience includes leadership roles with Young Life, World Vision, and Habitat for Humanity. 
  • Kilowatts for Humanity (Represented by Kirk MacLearnsberry): Kilowatts for Humanity (KWH) was founded in 2014 as an organization centered around an electrical engineering project for a hybrid wind/solar/storage system in Muhuru Bay, Kenya. The organization has since expanded to several major international solar project initiatives, with the goal of providing access to sustainable electricity in energy impoverished areas. Kirk MacLearnsberry has been a member of the design team since 2015 and was involved as the engineering lead on last summer's implementation trip to construct a local solar/storage kiosk in Munyama, Zambia. 
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Meet new members, newtwork with fellow engineers and planners, and learn about EWB! More information about the February 20 event at Pyramid Ale at 6:30 pm.

Aspect Staff vs. Brambles at MLK Day of Service Event

On Martin Luther King Day this week, Aspect staff took some time to participate in a Day of Service event. We joined Nature Consortium and many dozens of other volunteers in a restoration effort at Pigeon Point Park in West Seattle. We were tasked with removing invasive blackberries! The weather was great, we didn’t get scratched too badly—we did get muddy, and we made a little dent in the blackberry problem. 

Action shots from the day. Volunteers: 1 - Blackberry Brambles: 0! 
 

The Geology of Central Washington's Rattlesnake Ridge Landslide

Geology is on everyone’s mind in Yakima County as officials grapple with the ongoing Rattlesnake Ridge slide and how to help the community below it. This drone footage captures the surface features of the slide in detail. 

Given the geology of the area, Aspect’s Principal Engineering Geologist Dave McCormack summarizes the likely forces behind the slide: “Geologic studies have shown that slides of this nature are fairly common on the flanks of the numerous anticlinal ridges in central Washington. While most are ancient and have not moved during recent history, there are examples, including the Nile Valley landslide of 2009, where old slides have reactivated, or new slides began. These slides occur where basalt flows are interbedded with sedimentary strata. While the basalt strata may be relatively strong, the sedimentary interbeds are often weathered and weak.

When the gravitational driving forces acting on these dipping strata exceed the resisting strength of the weathered sedimentary strata, they begin to slide. There are multiple factors in the delicate balance of gravitational forces versus resisting strength, including the properties of the rock, degree of weathering, groundwater levels, the geometry of the slope, etc. 

Triggers for activation of landslides can include increases in groundwater level, strong earthquake shaking, or changes in slope geometry from natural causes like river migration, or human-caused grading. Because of the multiple factors involved, teasing out the exact triggers of a slope failure can be challenging, and the expected type of failure (fast debris runout, slow creeping failure, rockfalls, etc.) difficult to predict.” 

Geologic insight will continue to be relied on as the slide keeps moving.
 

The Columbia and Wells Dam: How the Mighty River Keeps the Lights On

Bare bulbs in wire cages light Aspect staff’s way down a flight of stairs through a damp concrete passage. One after another, we duck our heads, crawl through a water-tight steel hatch, and emerge in a cavernous chamber lit by a single halogen shop light. Our breath hangs in the cold air, and the sound of water drips from the surrounding shadows. 

Aspect staff make their way down into the basement of Wells Dam

Our guide tips back his hardhat, stares upwards, and explains that we have now descended 150 feet below the surface of the Columbia River. He points with his flashlight towards the middle of the room, to where one of Wells Dam’s Kaplan turbines—a five-bladed spinning top the size of a garbage truck—sits idle. A month from now, when this chamber is again flooded by the river, water will push against those blades, turning a shaft that will activate a generator, create a charge, and produce electricity—enough to power all the houses in the Wenatchee Valley, and then some.

The switchyard and gantry cranes along the top of Wells Dam.

Celebrating the 50th Anniversary of the Nation’s Only Hydrocombine Dam

Fifty miles downstream of Wells Dam, geologists and engineers in Aspect’s Wenatchee office regularly interact with hydropower in our week-to-week work. From evaluating utility district water rights, supporting environmental compliance at fish hatcheries, to helping clients adhere to FERC permit requirements, the influence of dams in the Northwest is far-reaching.

Aspect staff and Douglas PUD engineers explore active retrofitting operations underway for the ten generating units at Wells Dam

When Douglas County PUD offered us an invitation to visit Wells Dam, which celebrated its 50th anniversary earlier this year, Aspect Wenatchee jumped at the opportunity. 

Driving north along Highway 97 on a cold, snowy day in November, we had two things on our mind: what makes Wells unique, and what does it mean for a dam to reach this milestone? Here’s what we learned: 

  • Wells is the only dam in the U.S. designed as a hydrocombine, where the generating units, spillways, fish ladder, and switchyard are vertically stacked (as opposed to horizontally aligned). This gives the dam its compact footprint but presents certain logistical challenges for major maintenance operations. 
  • Like all Columbia River hydropower projects, Wells is a run-of-the-river dam. Reservoirs created by run-of-the-river dams have limited capacity to store water and must respond to fluctuations in seasonal river flows. For dams on the Columbia, this means that most of the available water comes from snowpack and is in greatest supply during the spring. 
  • Generating power at Wells represents a balancing act between storing and spilling water. In addition to coordinating reservoir levels with upstream and downstream dams, operators must forecast and respond to the Methow and Okanogan rivers, which eventually flow into the Columbia, all while complying with a suite of regulations for the protection of fish and wildlife, and fluctuating market demands of the regional grid.
  • Like anything that involves a complex assortment of moving parts, things inside a hydropower project eventually wear out. For Wells, turning 50 means that each of the 10 generating units is reaching its in-service design life. Work is actively underway to completely refurbish, replace, or re-machine the turbine components to extend their service life another 30 to 40 years.

We greatly appreciated the tour and getting an up-close look at one of our region’s hydroelectric projects. Happy 50th Anniversary, Wells—thanks for keeping our lights on!

Who are the scientists in your neighborhood?

Aspect outreach connects younger residents with cleanup and redevelopment work at Mt. Baker Housing Association

On a recent cloudy afternoon, about 15 kids gathered on a corner in Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood to peer down a hole. The hole isn’t just any hole, it’s a groundwater monitoring well—one of 35 that Aspect is using to measure groundwater contamination levels in the area. The kids, ranging from second grade through high school, are residents of six nearby apartment buildings managed by the Mt. Baker Housing Association (MBHA). This field trip was led by Aspect’s Principal Geologist Dave Cook and Senior Geologist Jessica Smith, who have been sharing their environmental work on an innovative MBHA redevelopment project with some of the neighborhood’s younger residents through an ongoing series of visits that helps kids understand the science that will help shape the future of their neighborhood.

Located two blocks from the Mount Baker light rail station, the cleanup site has sat unused for years due to solvent-contamination from a dry cleaner and gasoline-contamination from a former gas station. Aspect is supporting a first-of-its-kind partnership between the MBHA, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Department of Ecology that will use state funds to help cover some of the costs for environmental evaluation and cleanup. With significant help from an Ecology Public Partnership Grant, MBHA plans to redevelop the five parcels of land with two new residential buildings to meet the City’s critical need for more affordable housing.

Stepping out of the Typical Cleanup Process to Invite Community into the Project

Outreach and collaboration with the area’s residents, businesses, and other stakeholders is a key part of the project. Dave and Jessica’s work puts community, education, and science into action by speaking directly to a segment of the population not usually directly engaged in these types of projects. The kids get to meet the scientists and engineers working in their neighborhood and gets to find out what’s happening, and what’s going to happen, in their own backyard.

Dave and Jessica collaborated with MBHA’s Resident Services Coordinator Sameth Mell and intern Cristina Pinho to engage with the younger members of the Mount Baker community. “After 26 years of quietly cleaning up and recycling land for better uses, I thought it was time to break out of the standard consulting role and focus on the community in a more direct way,” Dave said. “I’ve always enjoyed educating people about what we do. The science is really cool, it’s practical, very visual, and I figured kids would be totally into geology and engineering. What kid doesn’t like playing with dirt, sampling water and learning about mysteries below ground?”

An Outdoor Classroom to See the Underground Up Close

On this recent visit, Dave and Jessica met the kids inside over pizza for introductions before heading out to the corner in front of the building, where Staff Geologist Na Hyung Choi was already busy gathering samples at one of the groundwater monitoring wells. She filled sample containers with groundwater located about 15 feet below the ground surface and answered questions while Jessica and Dave explained more about her work.

Jessica said, “For me, the best part of being involved in the community outreach is being able to introduce kids to the practical aspects of science and engineering to get them excited about STEM [science, technology, engineering, and math]. As we were watching Na Hyung obtain the groundwater samples, one of the fourth-grade girls asked me if she could be a Geologist or an Engineer when she grows up, to which I enthusiastically replied, ‘Of course!’ Facilitating that curiosity and excitement in these kids is what this is all about.”

Back inside, Dave and Jessica presented a video of how the well they’d just been looking at was created, showing how the hole was drilled and the soil that was unearthed from the drill. Jessica also gave a tangible explanation of just what groundwater is. Marbles in a glass represented the dirt, with a little water poured in to help them visualize how groundwater lives between the soil grains.  A bright green straw inserted into the glass stood in for the groundwater monitoring well that was installed into the soil to suck out the water.

Ongoing Outreach as Work Heads Toward 150 Units of New Housing

This visit was the second one Dave and Jessica have made since beginning their field work in mid-November. They plan to return often as the project continues, to share results from the samples Na Hyung was taking and what that data tells them about how the contaminants are behaving underground. From these data, Dave, Jessica and Ecology will develop the best plan to clean up the contaminated soil and groundwater so that construction can begin.

Cleanup and redevelopment on the MBHA project is slated to begin in 2019. Once complete, there will be an estimated 150 units of new affordable housing on the parcels. The kids Dave and Jessica have been checking in with will be able to tell their new neighbors, “Hey, I know what used to be underneath your building!” 

Aspect Staff Volunteers Design and Muscle for new Rain Gardens at Carnation Elementary School

Over this past summer, Aspect’s Owen Reese was invited by Stewardship Partners to provide pro bono design for a pair of rain gardens at Carnation Elementary School. The project is part of a long-standing partnership between the Snoqualmie Tribe and Stewardship Partners to plant and promote native species and educate communities on water quality protection. The goal of this demonstration project is to improve infiltration, replace non-native vegetation, and create wildlife habitat. The rain gardens will infiltrate runoff from approximately 6,500 square feet of the school’s roof.  

This fall, several Aspect staff, along with volunteers from Stewardship Partners and Carnation Elementary School, gave a Saturday to prepare the rain gardens for planting by shoveling dirt to create the final shape of the rain gardens and place 4 tons of river rock to line the conveyance channels. It was great fun and a good workout!

The school kids will be planting the rain gardens in a few weeks, incorporating native plants selected by the Snoqualmie Tribe as culturally significant.

New Yakima County Utility Attempting to Balance Rural Development and Water Use

Yakima County is investing $500,000 in grant money to establish a utility it hopes will help resolve water rights and water use conflicts for new developments in rural areas of Yakima County. Aspect’s Dan Haller was asked to weigh on the current value of water rights in the region based on our work assisting Kittitas, Spokane, Chelan, Klickitat, and other counties facing similar issues.  Read the full article HERE.

Worldwide Great Shakeout: Are You Earthquake Prepared?

Stocked up? Emergency plan written and communicated? Even if you feel behind, just starting the process is a great first step.

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Today is the Great Shakeout in the Pacific Northwest and worldwide.

See the resources below to get prepared in our “seismically rich” part of our world, including thoughts by Aspect’s very own geologic expert Dave McCormack on the science and potential of the Cascadia Subduction Zone i.e., the “Big One” occurring:

Great Shakeout Earthquake Drill

A Geologist’s Thoughtson the Pacific Northwest Mega Quake Story

Get Ready to Rumble: A Guide to Earthquake Preparedness by the Seattle Times

What Can I Do? Emergency Guide: From the City of Seattle's Emergency Management Guide

Possible Solutions for the Future of Icicle Creek Basin Water Resources

The 200-square-mile Icicle Creek basin in central Washington is the heart of the region’s agricultural, fisheries, and outdoor recreation resources. For years, the competing demands of stakeholders has resulted in a critical need to improve the basin’s conditions to reliably supply water to a variety of concerned groups.  Mike Kaputa, Director of Chelan County’s Natural Resources Department, recently wrote an in-depth article for The Water Report covering the complex web of conflicts and possible emerging solutions for this highly scrutinized water basin. Read the article HERE

The Hirst Decision: The Water Law that Halted WA's Budget

While critical to water use and supply in Washington state, water rights typically keep a low profile in the public eye. That's all changed over the last couple of weeks as the Hirst decision has made the headlines as a key political sticking point that has, for now, stopped the state's $4 billion capital construction budget from being approved.

With the spotlight on this landmark water use decision, Aspect's Dan Haller was interviewed by the Yakima Herald to help understand it. The article also hears from builders and counties grappling with what Hirst means for them. 

Read it here:  Reporter's Notebook: Wondering about the Hirst decision, the state Supreme Court water use case that became a key political tactic in Olympia? Read this primer.

Visualizing the Gender Wage Gap at the 2017 ESRI Conference

In the map-making world of Geographic Information Systems (GIS), ESRI is the de facto software of the industry. To keep up on all things GIS-related, Aspect’s GIS crew attends conference and networking events, including this year’s annual ESRI User Conference in San Diego.

Aspect's Senior GIS Analyst Robyn Pepin (far left), other members of WWGT, and ESRI President Jack Dangermond (middle) at the 2017 ESRI User Conference.

Aspect's Senior GIS Analyst Robyn Pepin (far left), other members of WWGT, and ESRI President Jack Dangermond (middle) at the 2017 ESRI User Conference.

This year, Senior GIS Analyst Robyn Pepin attended the conference representing both Aspect and Washington Women in GIS and Technology (WWGT). Several members of Aspect’s GIS staff participate in WWGT -- a group who together promote a diverse work community by providing support and opportunity for women to advance their spatial careers. 

At this year’s conference, WWGT submitted a poster to ESRI’s annual contest: Washington State Gender Wage Gap in the Work Force. This poster was designed to encourage a data-driven conversation surrounding the gender wage gap and included the history of women’s contribution to the technology field. Aspect’s Kaitlin Schrup contributed a historical timeline graphic to the poster, and Robyn Pepin presented the group’s poster with other WWGT members

To learn more about WWGT, check out their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/WashingtonWomeninGISandTechnology/ 

Check out a story map about the poster here: http://pot.maps.arcgis.com/apps/Cascade/index.html?appid=9978dbd4bbb94c338b32bbb5f08430d7
 

A Call to "Engineer with Soul"

Aspect’s Principal Geologist Dave Cook recently wrote a compelling opinion piece in The Seattle Times about the need for engineers and scientists to do more, be more, and say more. Dave is encouraged about the country’s scientific and engineering future because more and more scientists and engineers are multiculturalists, sensitive, and empathetic.

Read it here.

Controlled Atmosphere Storage: Keeping Northwest Fruit in Season Year-Round

In the Wenatchee Valley, it’s a common source of pride that Washington is the top producer of apples and pears in the nation. But with so much fruit coming off the trees at roughly the same time each year, have you ever wondered how crisp, crunchy apples and pears are available in the grocery store year-round? Or what enables people across the country—and around the globe—to recognize Washington as the source of the world’s best tree fruit varieties? Enter the technology of controlled atmosphere (CA) storage.

The Wenatchee Valley – the nation’s top apple and pear producer – keeps grocery aisles around the world stocked year-round by using massive, specially constructed warehouses designed to slow the ripening process.

A quick background on tree fruit: as apples and pears ripen, they take in oxygen and release carbon dioxide. Years ago, researchers determined that by limiting oxygen, introducing a little nitrogen, and lowering the temperature, the ripening process can be slowed. To apply this concept at a scale large enough to support Washington’s apple and pear industries, packers build enormous warehouses capable of holding multiple-orchards-worth of fruit within special airtight, refrigerated rooms. This gives shippers the flexibility to releasing fruit incrementally throughout the year, and allows you and I to enjoy a crunchy Honeycrisp apple in the middle of February, months after it was picked.

Building a CA-storage warehouse involves three special considerations: they must be massive, they must be stable, and they must be built quickly. Once fruit is off the trees, it gets hauled in bins that can weigh upwards of 900 pounds when full. Moving these bins requires big equipment (like forklifts and semi-trucks) and efficient storage requires stacking them up to 12 high—that’s a lot of weight! To maintain precise control of the atmosphere within these buildings, the rooms must remain airtight. This means that the foundation and walls must not shift, settle, or crack. Finally, market demands for additional storage capacity often drives the need for new CA warehouses to be built on short notice, with expedited timelines.

One full fruit bin can weigh 900 pounds. Stack those bins 12 feet high, and the need to engineer stable foundations for the warehouses that hold these bins becomes critical.

To meet these rigorous requirements, CA-storage warehouses are typically constructed out of giant precast concrete walls supported by cast-in-place concrete foundations capable of supporting substantial floor loads—up to 1,000 pounds per square foot. Designing for this type of stability requires the expertise of a geotechnical engineer for understanding how soils beneath the building will behave when loaded. By studying the local geology, excavating test pits, and drilling cores, geotechnical engineers can specify how wide and stout the footings and floor slabs should be at a given site.

Aspect geotechnical engineers Nick Szot and Erik Andersen have guided the design of several CA-storage warehouse projects for industry leaders like Blue Bird, Gebbers Farms, McDougall and Sons, and Peshastin Hi-Up. Aspect is proud to be the tree-fruit industry’s local, responsive firm for geotechnical services in the Wenatchee Valley and central Washington, and for our role in bringing Northwest pride to homes across America and around the world. 

Helping Bring Clean Water To Guatemala

In 1985 a US doctor and his wife traveled to the Northwest highland area of Guatemala, where they observed areas of extreme poverty and little infrastructure. Dr. Leeon Aller, MD and his wife Virginia soon decided to dedicate themselves to helping this region and in 1991 established Hands for Peacemaking Foundation (HFPF), based in Everett, Washington. Going strong in 2017, the Foundation provides infrastructure and other support services to over 250 villages in this mountainous area, where running water and electricity are the exception and having clean drinking water can be a daily struggle for villagers. 

For many years, Aspect has been supporting HFPF efforts to help some of the area villages solve water supply challenges and also provide geological assistance with the landslide-prone environment these mountain villages exist in.

 The Water Story of San Francisco JolomtaJ

Located 10 miles from the nearest town of Barillas, San Francisco Jolomtaj is home to 160 families and does not have electricity or running water.  For drinking water, the villagers have a choice -- they can build wooden boxes like that pictured below or walk to a spring to get and carry back water (this can mean a 4-5 hour round trip trek).

Existing wooden box water supply for the village

Villagers trekking back up the mountain with water from the spring

To help this situation, Aspect and others are funding construction of rooftop rainwater collection system for the community school and individual families—primarily widows and the elderly who struggle to get water for themselves. 

San Francisco villagers loading supplies to build the tank system

Family and finished water tank

HFPF partners with the villagers to build the water systems. These systems don’t replace the spring sources, but they do provide critical water emergency supply and are filtered to block contaminants. The work in San Francisco is currently ongoing, with additional collector and tank systems constructed as funding allows.  You can learn more about this project and other humanitarian projects by visiting the  Hands for Peacemaking Foundations website.

'Drunk Trees' and a Deluge of Rain Increase Landslide Risk

The Puget Sound area has been deluged with rain over the last few days, all within an already almost-record-breaking month of precipitation. With increased rain comes increased risk for landslides, and Aspect staff have responded to multiple ones over the last few days. This MyNorthwest article gives an explanation of landslide risks in our region with tips how to spot warning signs.

Aspect Paves the Way for a First-of-its-Kind Affordable Housing Project

Five pieces of land in southeast Seattle’s Mount Baker neighborhood have sat unused for years. Contamination from a former gas station and dry cleaner has plagued the area’s potential, especially since they sit just two blocks away from the Mount Baker light rail station. However, that’s all changing thanks to an innovative collaboration between the Mt. Baker Housing Association, the City of Seattle, and the Washington State Department of Ecology.

Click image for King 5's video on the Mt. Baker Gateway Project

Click image for King 5's video on the Mt. Baker Gateway Project

With the creation of a Redevelopment Opportunity Zone (ROZ), 150 units of affordable housing will soon go up in one of the City’s most racially and ethnically diverse neighborhoods. This ROZ designation—the first-of-its-kind in the state—allows for state money to be used for the environmental cleanup. With this innovative model, these previously undevelopable parcels are on their way to becoming crucially needed affordable housing.

Aspect's Jessica Smith and Dave Cook at the site of the Mt. Baker Gateway project.

Aspect's Jessica Smith and Dave Cook at the site of the Mt. Baker Gateway project.

Aspect has been leading the environmental strategy with Mt. Baker Housing’s legal advisor, Seattle law firm, Perkins Coie. Like any complex urban brownfield project, progress requires a unique strategy, buy-in of stakeholders, and a demonstration of a win-win. The environmental cleanup consulting that Aspect is providing will set the stage for remedial cleanup of petroleum and solvent-contaminated soil and groundwater. The cleanup action will do more than benefit the parcels, it will improve environmental quality of this part of the neighborhood. Groundbreaking is estimated for 2019.

Look out for future project updates and milestones as we play our part in realizing the vision of this community and stakeholders for affordable, sustainable, and healthy housing in Seattle.

Dan Haller Speaking on the Policy Implications of Climate Change on Water Supply Management, January 26th

Aspect’s Principal Water Resource Engineer, Dan Haller, will be discussing climate impacts to water on January 26th in Stevenson, Washington.  As future food production and processing systems in the region are expected to be challenged by water supply, the conference aims to create a dialogue among the communities that use and value the regions water supply and water quality. Dan will join a group of water resource experts to discuss policy implications of climate change on water supply management. Learn more about projected climate impacts on water accessibility in the Pacific Northwest and the sustainable management decisions HERE.

Dave Cook Helping Future Professionals Build Great Resumes on January 10

Aspect’s Principal Geologist Dave Cook will man the “Resume Review” station at the University of Washington’s College of Engineering Career Fair Prep Night on January 10. Dave will be giving out free advice to hopeful future professionals on what to do and, most importantly, what not to do when engineering an inviting resume for the working world. Learn more HERE.