In late January of 2022, our principal-in-charge, Jennifer J. Walker, sat down with Environmental Professionals Radio. Walker spoke with podcast host Laura Thorne and discussed small business opportunities, field stories, and vegan eats.
Walker covered her love of water resources from an early age:
“I think it probably started back with water resources when I was about 11. My parents’ basement flooded repeatedly when it rained, and I was the one tasked with sweeping the water into the drain. And I got tired of doing it. So, I thought ‘let’s figure this out’ and realized that the whole backyard drained into the window well, which basically then just flooded into the basement – so not quite environmental, but I did dig a little swale and reroute the water out to the front yard curb and gutter.”
Walker also touched on what led to the formation of Watearth, Inc, which has now been thriving for more than a decade:
“At the time, I was working purely in hydrology and hydraulics and flood control, which is a great field. I really love it. And I’m passionate about it, but it just didn’t have the breadth that I was looking for, [and I was] wanting to tie back to some of my earlier environmental work and a lot of the sustainability and resiliency that I was doing outside of work. I really wanted to bring that into our practice. I looked at positions that were out there, there wasn’t really anything at the time that was a good fit in terms of where I was in my career and wanting such an integrated approach. And that’s what led me to start Watearth.”
The podcast is 35-minutes long. You can listen to the full show, which covers much more, here:
This blog was written by guest contributor Jeremy Liby, Watearth’s Geologist/GIS Specialist. Liby is a talented Geologist and GIS Specialist with more than a decade of experience in data collection and analysis, GIS, and producing technical graphics using a variety of tools such as ArcGIS and CAD. In the field, Liby’s experience includes conducting PH I and II Environmental Site Assessments (ESAs), soil sampling, wetland delineations, drilling groundwater wells, groundwater sampling, well development, and field crew/subcontractor project management. Liby supports Watearth projects by interpreting complex field data and translating it into clear and descriptive reports and exhibits that follow Watearth’s documentation process and core values of producing quality deliverables with reliable service to our clients. Utilizing hands-on field experiences combined with an extensive background in spatial analysis and data collection makes Liby a key team member and support resource for Watearth projects.
What is GIS?
A Geographic Information System (GIS) is a powerful and essential tool used in numerous industries, from engineering to urban planning to insurance, and is particularly apt for use with water resources planning, modeling, and design. The purpose of GIS is “to capture, store, manipulate, analyze, manage, and present all types of geographical data.” In other words, GIS is designed to manage spatial data related to locations on earth.
GIS and Water Resources
Many technical water resources projects benefit from GIS, including environmental, stormwater management, floodplain management, and other significant engineering projects. GIS can be used to complete complex analyses such as calculating hydrologic parameters, drainage area delineation, floodplain mapping, stormwater drainage capacities, determining ideal green infrastructure types based on land use, and many more. In addition to analysis, GIS can also visualize every project component.
GIS and the Environment
An example of an environmental application of GIS is a groundwater monitoring project. GPS coordinates of groundwater monitoring wells at a project site are collected in the field and converted to points added to GIS. GIS then ties data to each of these points. Data examples linked to GIS points include groundwater well depth, groundwater elevation, groundwater contamination type, groundwater contamination levels, and coordinates. Finally, the groundwater flow is visualized using the applied groundwater elevation data by generating water table elevation contours. Additionally, visualization of a contamination plume is created by generating contamination level contours. Combining groundwater elevation and flow direction with contamination plume locations determines the potential future migration of groundwater contamination. Visualization of a contamination plum can aid in determining mitigation measures and the urgency with which these measures need to be treated.
GIS and Stormwater
Another example of beneficial GIS application is determining the deficiencies of a storm drain network. First, field verified and surveyed data of a storm drain network are mapped using GIS. Next, three-dimensional attributes are tied to a storm drainage feature like ground elevation, depth to the storm drain feature (which can be used to calculate the invert elevation), and appropriate sizing of the storm drain feature. These values are used to determine the slope of a storm drainage network and the amount of flow that can move through the storm drain network. With this information and surface topography features, whether engineered or natural, it can be determined how stormwater flows, how much flows into the stormwater drainage network, and which stormwater drainage features are insufficient for various amounts of stormwater. The storm drain network is then visually presented in maps with any deficiencies of the storm drain network.
GIS and Floodplain Management
A new construction residential development with nearby streams is an excellent example of a floodplain management application where GIS is useful. Publicly available 100-year and 500-year floodplain boundaries from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) may show that the building location of new residential properties is in a high-risk flooding zone. The floodplain boundaries are mapped in GIS to visualize these problem areas quickly. Then it is possible to determine how to reduce flood risk, including ways of diverting streams or other storm drain features that can slow flow through the new development. Mitigation measures can be modeled with various storm events to determine new floodplain boundaries that reduce the risk of flooding. The FEMA floodplain boundaries can be altered in GIS to show how the floodplain boundaries have been reduced due to mitigation measures, reducing the risk of flooding in the new residential development project area.
The common theme in all these GIS applications is that GIS collected and generated is presented visually. Visual representation of project results and the project area components are essential to environmental and technical reporting. High-level professional exhibits are generated using GIS. A vast array of publicly available GIS data and manually generated GIS data can be added and manipulated within a GIS exhibit. For example, digital elevation models (DEMs) can visualize elevation changes, field-collected GPS lines and points can visualize significant project area features, and county-provided environmental spatial data can visualize environmental concerns within and around a project area. Many other data types can be collected and displayed in a GIS exhibit. When displaying GIS data in an exhibit, it is critical to highlight the significant features discussed in a project report. The exhibit should only include data relevant to project needs, and multiple exhibits can be created to display each project phase.
When displaying project features, background imagery is essential. For example, aerial imagery displays data where land usage is essential, topography shows where elevation is important, and street maps illustrate where project location is important. Additionally, appropriately symbolized and color-coded project features ensure that significant features are easily located. Finally, labeled elements allow the reader to find the correct information in the exhibit quickly.
Additionally, the appropriate scale is dependent on the map. If only the project area is important, the project area and its features should be 90% of the map. Depending on the shape of the map, the exhibits are generated with the project area in a landscape view or portrait view. If the surrounding features and the project area are both important, the exhibit is zoomed to a scale that shows the appropriate vicinity around the project area. Finally, a professional exhibit must contain a title, a legend, a scale bar, and a north arrow. These components are critical for the reader to establish spatial and directional orientation and quickly read the information.
Why I Love GIS
GIS is my passion. My background is originally in Geology, and my first job out of college was at a large engineering firm as an environmental geologist. I have consistently worked in the field conducting geological field surveys, environmental site assessments, groundwater sampling, and soil sampling. The GIS team frequently reached out to me to discuss data that I had collected in the field so it could be presented effectively in professionally generated exhibits. This grabbed my interest, and as someone who collected the data and saw the project sites in the field, I felt that it would be valuable to add GIS to my skillset. During the field offseason, I asked to be involved in GIS tasks as much as possible, and my passion for GIS took off from there. I went back to school for my GIS certificate and switched to be a full-time GIS analyst. Now that I am at Watearth, I am able to use my past environmental geology and GIS experiences. I am involved in a diverse set of environmental, stormwater management, floodplain management, and green infrastructure development projects. I am very interested in how field-collected data, researched data, and data manipulation all go hand in hand, and how this data provides the basis for every project and any solutions that may come out of it.
In November of 2021, the Build Back Better Act, alongside the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, was enacted by the 117th United States Congress, then signed into law by President Joe Biden on November 15 and November 19, 2021.
Of the $550 billion in new spending from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Congress allocated $55 billion to drinking water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure funding. Each allotted area receives a variety of funding. For example, for stormwater, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Sewer Overflow and Stormwater Reuse Municipal Grant Program will receive $1.4 billion over five years. The EPA will also receive $5 million each year to complete the Clean Watershed Needs Survey every other year and $50 million for stormwater infrastructure grants. In addition, the Stormwater Infrastructure Technology Program will also receive $25 million to create five Stormwater Centers for Excellence.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will also improve drinking water infrastructure. For example, the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund will receive $4 billion in grants to address per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) in drinking water. Another $15 billion will go to the Drinking Water SRF for lead service line replacement. In addition, the Alternative Source Water Pilot Program will receive $125 million over five years.
Clean water will also receive money, with $11.7 billion going to the Clean Water State Revolving Fund over five years – the same given to the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. The Wastewater Energy Efficiency Grant Pilot Program will receive $100 million over the next five years, and $1 billion will be used to address contaminants issues via the Clean Water State Revolving Fund. Over five years, an additional $150 million will be distributed to help low-income homeowners construct septic tanks and repair failing ones.
The Army Corps of Engineers will receive $75 million for projects to maintain, upgrade, and repair dams needing safety enhancements. The Army Corps will also receive $465 million for their Continuing Authorities Program. The program allows the Corps to plan, design, and implement less complex and less costly water resources projects.
The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act also authorized new EPA programs, focusing on climate resilience for drinking water systems and the water ratepayer assistance pilot program for low-income households.
Clean energy components, including waterpower, play a significant role in Build Back Better. Hydropower and other renewable energy such as wind and solar are valued, and by 2031, $1.876 billion will be allocated to hydropower in the United States.
In addition to hydropower, Build Back Better provides $9 billion through 2026 for grants to lead remediation, filtration devices, and new water fountains.
Marine ecosystems are also receiving attention with this bill, with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration receiving $6 billion to conserve coastal and marine habitats.
Other areas supporting these bills are the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative, tribal wastewater grants, stormwater reuse grants, and workforce and technical assistance development grants for small, rural, tribal, and disadvantaged communities.
The money from the infrastructure bill is primarily distributed at a state level. California, Texas, and New York will receive the most funding, followed by Florida, Illinois, and Pennsylvania. The states themselves have the discretion to allot the money as they see fit. The state governments will choose which communities receive money, the amount of money, and prioritize projects.
A large portion of the money will be given to federal organizations such as the Department of Transportation, the Department of Commerce, and the Environmental Protection Agency, to further distribute at the state level as loans and grants.
The Build Back Better Act is a small step towards comprehensively improving the country’s aging infrastructure. However, more action is needed. Tom Smith, the executive director of the American Society of Civil Engineers, in a 2019 NPR interview, stated repairing America’s highways and bridges could cost $836 billion. Upgrading wastewater and water infrastructure would likely need $68 billion annually over the next 10 years. Wastewater systems could cost $271 billion, with dams alone requiring $64 billion.
The Build Back Better Act allocates funds to greatly needed projects; however, the price tag remains significant for improving the state of America’s infrastructure.
Tree equity is the idea that trees are critical infrastructure – which means that their destruction would have significant and negative effects on the security, economy, or public health & safety of the nation. To that end, tree equity requires that all people, regardless of where they live, need access to trees. The Tree Equity Score website states that there should be “enough trees in specific neighborhoods or municipalities for everyone to experience the health, economic, and climate benefits trees provide”.
Economic benefits of trees
Planting trees in cities has an economic benefit. Watering, pruning, and other maintenance requires city staff – they create long-term demand for jobs. It also opens up more jobs for urban planners and ecologists.
Trees also increase property values. Home prices increase in correlation with the number of trees in an area. Additionally, when homes and apartments are shaded, air conditioning costs are reduced.
According to a recent Washington Post article, people living in greener neighborhoods have a lower rate of heart attacks, high blood pressure, and diabetes. People are also generally happier when surrounded by more trees. Some research has even shown a correlation between more trees and fewer instances of gun violence amongst adolescents..
Trees help combat the urban heat island effect, which occurs when sunlight hits exposed constructed surfaces like asphalt and concrete, which retain heat and raise the local temperature. The shade benefits provided by trees are a cost-effective and logical method of reducing the amount of sunlight that reaches pavement directly, thereby creating a cooler overall environment. This issue is particularly present in low-income neighborhoods of urban areas, where trees are typically harder to find.
As global warming leads to more extreme weather, society seeks solutions. Green infrastructure offers many benefits such as heat prevention, water quality improvement, hydrology, hydromodification management reasons, and flood protection. While this article will focus more on climate change resiliency, green infrastructure serves many purposes. In the United States, different regions face various climate issues depending on their geography.
California’s Climate Issues and Green Infrastructure
California boasts 840 miles of coastline, along which 85% of the state’s population resides. As the sea level rises along the coast—eight inches in the last century—it puts people at risk of coastal flooding and erosion.
Additionally, California is experiencing record drought and wildfires at a much higher rate, affecting California’s agriculture, with the potential to cause food shortages across the state and the country. In addition to agricultural issues, drought and wildfire effects habitats and ecosystems in part provide water quality, wildlife, and other goods.
As California loses vegetation and agriculture to extreme drought and fire, many cities have put an emphasis on Green Streets. Green streets help manage stormwater runoff. They are designed to allow vegetation and plants to adsorb rainfall and other outdoor water and filter pollutants and potentially increase water quality and supply—which would greatly benefit California.
With California’s shoreline at risk of rising sea levels, coastal resiliency is becoming increasingly more important. A key example of coastal resiliency is a “living shoreline” created through plants, sand, and natural barriers, which maintains the natural shoreline processes and reduces erosions and floods.
Texas’ Climate Issues and Green Infrastructure
Texas also has seen an increase in extreme heatwaves. It is home to nine of the hottest cities in the United States and averages 60 dangerous heat days each year. Dangerous heat days occur when the heat index surpasses 104 degrees Fahrenheit. Texas is also at risk of wildfires, with an estimated 72% of the population living in areas at risk of wildfire. In addition to these risks, Texas has also seen an increase in both inland and coastal flooding.
A new fund in Texas – the Flood Infrastructure Fund (FIF) allocates $793 million in grant money for structural and nonstructural projects, including green and nature-based projects. Some examples of flood-preventative green infrastructure in Texas include open space preservation, bank stabilization, erosion control, bioswales, wetland restoration, and permeable pavement. Counties, municipalities, river authorities, drainage districts, and conservation and reclamation districts qualify for the Flood Infrastructure Fund.
Also, like other states, Texas has increased interest in stormwater capture and green infrastructure to prevent water pollution in urban areas. With a steady ongoing increase in the risk of fire and drought from year to year, stormwater capture and water quality projects are becoming more important in the Lone Star State.
New York and New Jersey Climate Issues and Green Infrastructure
The Northeastern United States, much like other regions in the US, is dealing with rising temperatures, rising sea levels, warming oceans, and changing precipitation patterns. One of the most impactful consequences of global warming is flooding. As infrastructure continues to age the effects of flooding become more detrimental.
During Hurricane Ida, eleven people drowned in their basement New York City apartments, as water overflowed the streets and filled their homes. The effects of hurricanes encompass social, economic, and regulatory issues, however, death by climate change is still a tragedy. Additionally during the hurricane, subway stations flooded raising questions (that have been raised before) about the resilience of NYC’s transit system in the face of climate change.
New York City has made great strides with green infrastructure; namely with rain gardens. These gardens are especially important during flooding, as sewers can often overflow during floods. Rain gardens are a great way to capture stormwater and help maintain water quality even with an influx of polluted floodwaters.
New Jersey, in response to increased precipitation and flood (both actual and predicted) has become very involved in green infrastructure, adopting rules that require municipalities in the state to manage stormwater using sustainable and resilient design methods.
While this is not the perfect solution to climate change, it is a strong form of resiliency and has many other benefits.
Watearth has a resume rich with experience with green infrastructure, stormwater, and climate resiliency projects.
Watearth worked with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) on their defense against climate change plan. This project primarily focused on resiliency and sustainability by providing potential green solutions and vegetation management strategies for climate-related vulnerabilities. Watearth developed a prioritization matrix for green infrastructure solutions, while mapping geographic information systems that included green infrastructure, landscape architecture, and erosion control for projects to address flooding and mitigate impacts from climate change.
Watearth worked with Houston Metro on their urban design master plan. The team provided green infrastructure, sustainability and conversation consulting system-wide.
Additionally in Texas, Watearth worked with the Port of Corpus Christi Authority (PCCA) on their drainage master plan. This stormwater master plan developed plans for managing stormwater volume, while also implementing green infrastructure best practices. The team also performed stormwater water management modeling for hydrology, hydraulics, and water quality modeling.
Watearth worked with the city of Austin on their Tannehill Creek Morris Williams Stormwater Improvements and Bartholomew Park Stormwater Treatment Retrofit project. For this assignment, the team proposed Stormwater Control Measures (SCM) to provide water quality and structural flooding benefits. We utilized locally available limestone boulders for stream stabilization instead of gabion baskets due to their longer life-cycle and local availability with vegetated shelf.
Contact Watearth with your green infrastructure and climate resiliency project needs.
In June of this year, California’s snowpack across the entire state was 0%—meaning snow was entirely melted at the various electronic survey stations across the state used to monitor snow and water levels. As California continues into what appears to be another record drought, climate scientists and Californians alike are hoping the Golden State will experience heavy rain and snowfall in the winter season of 2021-2022. The coming year is a La Niña year, so what does this mean for the drought and the 2022 wildfire season?
What is La Niña?
La Niña is a climate condition in the Pacific Ocean that influences and changes normal wind patterns. During a La Niña event, winters are drier in southern areas of the United States, while the Pacific Northwest and Midwestern states experience more rain and snow than usual. La Niña does not guarantee that California will have a dry winter, but it is highly likely.
What does this mean for California?
In Southern California, La Niña typically has a negative impact on snowpack and water levels. With an 87% chance of La Niña lasting from December to February, Southern California is unlikely to see enough precipitation to bring the current drought to an end. This drought is considered the worst drought on record, surpassing the 2014-2015 drought. Additionally, this is the second consecutive year the Pacific is experiencing La Niña conditions.
California has experienced more droughts in the 21st Century than have previously been recorded. As mentioned, the four-year drought that occurred between 2012-2016 led to water shortages at hydroelectric power plants, reservoirs, and in the agricultural industry; this drought also killed 102 million forest trees.
La Niña is likely to have a similar effect in Northern California, many climate scientists anticipate air currents will push much of the needed rain into the Pacific Northwest. However, some of the most northern parts of California bordering Oregon may receive significant rainfall.
This past year, California experienced some of the largest wildfires in its history aided by the dry conditions. When areas have already been affected by fire and drought, the topsoil is not able to absorb rain because plants have been destroyed, creating a vicious cycle. Rich, earthy soils can absorb and drain water well; however, hard, dry soils cannot drain well making it difficult for plants to reestablish themselves. With La Niña affecting the West Coast for a consecutive year, we are likely to see a similar amount of wildfires and the consequent damages.
Many climate scientists have found there is a direct tie between climate change and continuing issues with droughts. As the climate warms, precipitation is primarily rain rather than snow. Additionally, snow is melting much earlier in the year increasing evaporation. Rising temperatures combined with increasing evaporation reduce available water and can lead to more intense droughts.
Climate change contributes to continued water shortages, as 93% of the western United States is in a drought condition, with 60% of the region in exceptional drought. The National Weather Service defines an exceptional drought as, “Exceptional and widespread crop/pasture losses; shortages of water in reservoirs, streams, and wells creating water emergencies.” Exceptional drought is the most severe drought classification.
While California continues to struggle with extreme weather there have been some positive signs recently.
The Washington Post published a story about heavy precipitation and moisture-rich storms hitting California, as well as Oregon and Washington. In addition to the rain, many feet of snow are possible in the Sierra Nevada as well perhaps ending fire season in Northern and Central California.
While the needed precipitation is a good start to the fall season, the real determining factor will be between December through February, as California will likely experience the brunt of traditional La Niña conditions, or more hopefully, experience a wet winter.
Watearth has significant experience in sustainability, resiliency, and green infrastructure work. In Southern California, Watearth worked with the Orange County Transportation Authority (OCTA) on their Rail Infrastructure Defense Against Climate Change Plan. Watearth evaluated green solutions and vegetation management strategies climate-related vulnerabilities. This plan helped addressed flooding and steep slope challenges, while also mapping out how to mitigate impacts from climate change, periods of drought, and high precipitation.
Contact Watearth for your sustainability and green infrastructure project needs.
Water is a precious resource and a fundamental human need, yet it is often taken for granted although extraordinarily little of it is clean and safe enough for use. Over 7 billion people need drinking water, and industry, agriculture, and ecosystems need clean, safe water as well. Water can come from surface water (lakes, rivers, reservoirs) or groundwater such as aquifers which means water quality directly impacts water supply. Sewage, manufacturing processes, and industrial uses can contaminate water. Chemicals such as landscaping fertilizers, pesticides, and other chemicals used in manufacturing or industry can also affect water quality. Other water contaminants can come from livestock and dog parks. Manufacturing can introduce heavy metals such as cyanide and lead (CDC). Additionally, heavy sediment loads from unstable sites and construction sites without proper sediment controls can diminish water quality. Trash also affects water quality, particularly as it breaks down.
Water quality is established by using the physical, chemical, and biological characteristics of water to determine its suitability for a particular use (USGS). According to the United States Geological Survey (USGS) the “dissolved solids concentration in water is the sum of all the substances, organic and inorganic, dissolved in water” and is referred to as “total dissolved solids or TDS.” Common dissolved solids include calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, bicarbonate, sulfate, chloride, nitrate, and silica (USGS). The concentration of dissolved solids affects water quality and can make water unsuitable for some uses.
Total maximum daily loads (TMDLs) are also used to determine and improve water quality. According to the EPA, a TMDL is the “calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant allowed to enter a waterbody so that the waterbody will meet and continue to meet water quality standards for that particular pollutant” (EPA). TMDLs can be used to determine how much of a particular pollutant needs to be removed from a body of water to improve the quality. States use TMDLs to ensure the appropriate action is taken to improve impaired waters. A TMDL is used to “determine the loading capacity of the waterbody and to allocate that load among different pollutants sources so that the appropriate control actions can be taken and water quality standards achieved” (EPA).
Water for human consumption must be treated to remove waterborne contaminants that cause sickness and diseases such as E. coli, Hepatitis A, and Giardia intestinalis. Other contaminants like disinfection by-products such as inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides must also be removed to make water safe for drinking (CDC).
Industry & Agriculture
Water is used in industry for fabrication, processing, washing, dilution, cooling, and transportation of products. It is often also used for sanitation within the facility and is sometimes incorporated into a product. Industries that consume the most water are paper, chemical, food, and oil refinement industries (USGS). Water quality affects the quality of the products produced by industries and water with impurities can make processes such as cooling less efficient.
Water is used in agriculture for irrigation, fertilizer and pesticide application, frost control, crop cooling, and sustaining livestock (CDC). Irrigation requires clean water to avoid contamination of food products and prevent illness. Elevated levels of dissolved solids in water used for irrigation can reduce crop yields because plants cannot easily absorb water from the soil. Additionally, over time the dissolved solids can build up in soils and make the land ill-suited to grow crops (USGS). Water for livestock must also be contaminant-free to prevent illness, low-quality water can reduce livestock productivity.
Fresh surface waters such as lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams are an integral part of ecosystems, yet they hold less than 0.001% of the planet’s water (EPA). All animals need water to survive, and contaminated water affects both plants and animals. Heavy metals in water can be toxic to animals and cause birth defects and cancer. Water contaminates can also cause disease in illness in animals. Poor water quality also negatively impacts plants. It can limit plant growth and contaminants absorbed by the plants can be passed on to the animals that consume them (CDC).
Green and Grey Infrastructure
Water capture and filtration is becoming more important and has started to play a larger role in water quality. In fact, stormwater runoff is one of the top causes of water pollution (EPA). In gray stormwater infrastructure, water flows over impermeable surfaces such as paved roads and parking lots where it can collect pollutants. Untreated water then flows out of urban environments via curbs, gutters, drains, pipes, and collection systems and into bodies of water (EPA). Conversely in green stormwater infrastructure water is absorbed into the earth instead of running into natural bodies of water. Green stormwater infrastructure uses natural processes to improve water quality by allowing rainwater to be absorbed into the ground rather than allowing it to run off impermeable surfaces where it can collect pollutants. Green stormwater infrastructure can also limit flooding by reducing the amount of stormwater and can also improve the aesthetics of an area.
Green infrastructure can be added to existing gray infrastructure by replacing pavement with permeable pavement, expanding green spaces, and adding bioswales and rain gardens. Permeable pavement can be used in parking lots, sidewalks, alleys, and other areas with lower traffic volumes to reduce impervious paved areas which cause runoff and increase water absorption. Green spaces can be added by planting trees between sidewalks and curbs or adding tree boxes in roundabouts to aid in water absorption and natural filtration. Rain gardens and bioretention can be a minimal maintenance addition to an urban landscape that helps improve the aesthetics of an area while also reducing stormwater runoff. Native plants are used in bioswales and rain gardens to reduce irrigation needs and lessen water use they can also create habitats for local wildlife improving the aesthetics of an area. With the addition of green infrastructure elements, water can be redirected from storm sewers to the bioretention areas where water is absorbed and filtered.
Water capture and filtration are an important part of water quality. A singular technological solution cannot solve all water supply and water quality challenges. The best overall option is to reduce our impact on the environment at a societal level while also incorporating Green Infrastructure (GI) into more projects. GI (distributed and centralized BMPs) and stream restoration can improve water quality; however, water treatment and the treatment of wastewater still play an important secondary and tertiary role in improving water quality. Additionally, groundwater may require clean-up or treatment before infiltration occurs. Watearth believes in resilient and sustainable water sources to ensure we have safe, clean water sources for years to come.
Watearth is focused on improving water quality through stormwater management, green infrastructure, and drainage planning at the site filtration and regional level. As a water quality-focused firm, we also want to develop public awareness about water quality.
Recently the Watearth team worked with Plummer on the Port of Corpus Christi Authority Drainage Master Plan which included developing a Storm Water Master Plan for the Inner Harbor and Rincon areas. We implemented GI for the new stormwater Best Management and developed GI solutions that work in conjunction with grey infrastructure. We also managed the stormwater volume and the quality of receiving waters under various growth and development scenarios. Watearth worked with the San Franciso Estuary Institute (SFEI) and the California State Water Resource Control Board (CSWRCB) on the Bay Area Regional Green Plan-It Master Plan (Prop 84 Grant). Watearth developed a GI Master Plan and performed watershed-wide GI and water quality modeling.
To read more about Watearth’s projects, visit our Projects Page. If you need assistance with a water quality or environmental project, please contact Watearth.
Watearth takes on numerous interesting and exciting projects. Take a look at what some of our teammates have to say about their work.
Sinem Gokgoz Kilic, PhD, Environmental Engineer
I am currently working on a reservoir expansion project. For this assignment, I have applied the EPA BASINS (Better Assessment Science Integrating Point and Non-Point Sources) model to a watershed in Texas to examine the hydromodification impacts of the construction of a proposed reservoir on the nearby creek. I modeled sediment transport and water temperature in the creek for both existing and proposed conditions based on the possible discharges from the proposed reservoir during a prolonged drought. TCEQ requires that a reservoir can supply water for 180 days during drought. Using a 180-day continuous simulation using the EPA BASINS model together with HSPF (Hydrologic Simulation Program Fortran), our team analyzed the impact of the proposed reservoir on the creek. We determined that there would be erosion in the creek due to increased discharges from the reservoir. This would lead to increased sedimentation concentration in the creek, as well as a decrease in temperature.
This was very exciting to work on. I not only learned about the application of the modified pulse routing approach using both HEC-RAS and HEC-HMS models concurrently (as two rivers are interacting on a flat floodplain), but I also was able to apply my water quality modeling background. Overall, it was a very interesting and challenging project to work on, and I am very happy to have been a part of it.
Dr. Kilic is a talented environmental and water resources engineer with nearly three decades of experience. Dr. Kilic is experienced in flood inundation mapping through dam breach modeling and Emergency Action Plans for hydropower plants.
Sanja Martic, LA., CEP, Environmental Designer
I am currently working on a water conservation garden turf reduction project in New Jersey. The main goal of the project is to demonstrate an opportunity for water conservation that can be replicated and adopted by home and business owners in the local community. Our client wants to replace the existing, obsolete office building landscape with a landscape that demonstrates low water use. This intervention has opened possibilities to facilitate placemaking, community building, and public outreach, and to restore wildlife habitat and contribute to local biodiversity.
The anticipated landscape design interventions for this project are typically associated with low water use design, and they include shading, amending soil to increase its moisture-holding capacity, and mulching to lower evaporation. Furthermore, the rain garden, which functions as a water storage and infiltration feature, will be planted with ecoregion-appropriate plants. Currently, I am including low water use native plants throughout the garden planting plan. Finally, impervious surfaces are being minimized, and, where and when necessary, low volume drip irrigation will apply water directly to the roots of the plants, minimizing water loss.
We are also developing a brochure and interpretive signage for several areas of the garden.
As a member of the design team at Watearth, I have an opportunity to work nationally on many projects diverse in scale and scope. Some of my favorite assignments allow me to focus on the plant world. I am currently assisting our lead landscape architect, Kathleen Burson, in putting together a plant list for a unique garden on the East Coast.
Sanja Martic is a highly motivated designer and planner who brings decades of experience to the Watearth team.
Adam Susskind, Marketing Communications Manager
I am enjoying working with Los Angeles County Public Works to determine the best path forward on multiple regional surface water projects in various phases of development. We are working collaboratively to identify project challenges and are developing scope adjustments that best serve the project needs. The County is comprised of a group of extremely dedicated and insightful professionals, and this makes putting our heads together a joy. I’ve found the County’s project managers are very willing to identify themselves and the consulting firms as members of the same team, which makes project speedbumps an opportunity to work together towards a common goal, rather than an issue of protecting the interests of different parties. We’re catching details and working them into project management plans to deliver the most successful deliverable possible within the given constraints.
LA County is the most populous county in the United States, which means the efforts I am making in tandem with our senior technical leaders and with the County to produce a cogent scope and budget will lead to a positive outcome for a maximum number of people. This is just another reason why Watearth is a great place to work!
Adam Susskind is a communications specialist for engineering and environmental projects with a decade of combined experience in the technology service, B2B, and A/E/C industries. Susskind is a highly practiced technical writer and editor who approaches all projects with a keen eye for the written word.
Here at Watearth, we take pride in performing several field-based Hydraulic Conductivity Tests to determine design infiltration rates of various soil types for the construction of Low Impact Development (LID) design, including Green Infrastructure (GI).
Field testing is crucial for baseline field parameters, including soil parameters, and establishes a framework for the development of LID. In addition to soil group type, texture, and depth, field testing can be used to ground truth desktop research and confirm actual field conditions, such as conductivity rate and design infiltration rate. The design infiltration rate is ultimately used for portions of geotechnical engineering design.
What is Hydraulic Conductivity and Design Infiltration Rate?
Hydraulic conductivity is defined as the ability of soil to transmit water over a given period. Sometimes the hydraulic conductivity is referred to as the “water infiltration rate” when tested over extended periods of time. The hydraulic conductivity of soil is defined by the ability of the soil to infiltrate water under saturated or nearly saturated conditions over time. The infiltration rate can be provided in various units but is typically provided in inches/hour (in/hr).
Hydraulic conductivity can be affected by a multitude of factors. In soils, texture, particle size, distribution, roughness, shape, and structure each affect the overall hydraulic conductivity, or infiltration rate, of a soil. Soil classifications are often helpful descriptors when discussing hydraulic conductivity and include Hydrologic Soil Groups (A, B, C, and D) and the 12 soil textures (sand, loamy sand, sandy loam, loam, silt loam, silt, sandy clay loam, clay loam, silty clay loam, sandy clay, silty clay, and clay).
The Design Infiltration Rate is ultimately the rate that is used for engineering design and the development of LID. The design infiltration rate is a combination of the equalized infiltrations rates determined by testing, and an incorporated Reduction Factor (RF). RF is determined by weighted criteria and is calculated to afford the design an appropriate margin for error and margin for change of conditions over time; this combination provides a value that represents the long-term performance of the proposed design and construction.
Examples of Field Tests
At Watearth, after years of experience performing field tests for hydraulic conductivity, there are two tests in particular that we have found to be not only efficient but extremely accurate.
The first test is the Double-Ring Infiltrometer (DRI). Following ASTM D3385 – 18, the tests require driving two rings into the ground where they are filled with water. The outer ring is driven into the ground further than the inner ring, so the inner ring represents only the downward movement of water.
Two Mariotte Tubes, one with 10,000 milliliters (mL) of capacity to fill the outer ring and one with 3,000 mL volumetric capacity to fill the inner ring, are used to fill the rings and maintain a constant head pressure throughout the testing period. The volume of water infiltrated into the rings is then converted to an infiltration rate, using the ASTM calculation methods.
Constant head pressure is a constant reading created by the pressure of water in the graduated column. It can be further described by the Mariotte Tube Principal: “a Mariotte siphon is based on the principle of a Mariotte bottle, which discharges liquid at constant pressure. Moreover, the difference in height between the bottom of the air tube and exit hole of the siphon maintains a constant head in the inner infiltrometer ring” (Bouwer et al.).
Second, Constant Head Permeameter (CHP) testing utilizes a Guelph Permeameter (GP) to obtain infiltration rates for soils. The GP uses the Mariotte tube principle maintaining a constant head within a borehole, as opposed to the falling head test, which is similar in that soils are tested once saturated, but differs in that the head pressure (the volume of water present at the top) is not required to be maintained . This device consists of a tripod assembly; a support tube and lower air tube fittings; a water reservoir and fittings; and well hydraulic head scale and upper air tube fittings. The GP maintains a constant head as water infiltrates into the soil within the borehole. This rate of infiltration is documented and calculated by the water reservoir volume (Δh) against time (Δt).
Both testing options can be used separately or in combination based upon field scenarios, accessibility, or accuracy techniques.
What is LID?
Low Impact Development (LID) refers to systems and practices that use or mimic natural processes that result in the infiltration, evapotranspiration, or use of stormwater to protect water quality and associated aquatic habitat (EPA, 2021).
At Watearth, we utilize field-based hydraulic conductivity testing to determine the design infiltration rate to design and construct different types of LID to promote preferred hydrologic, water quality, and habitat conditions locally and regionally. Watearth deals in many of the popular LID alternatives: rain gardens, bioretention, biofiltration, permeable pavement, vegetated swales, bioswales, green roofs, trees, vegetation, infiltration basins, green streets, blue roofs, subsurface detention, rain barrels, and cisterns.
Watearth takes on numerous jobs that involve DRI and CHP testing for LID design.
We worked with Los Angeles County Public Works (LACPW) on their Adventure Park Regional Stormwater Capture and Integrated Water Resources project. Along with work involving civil design, site assessments, and groundwater monitoring on this project, we created an Operations & Maintenance Plan for Low Impact Development and completed a bioretention LID design featuring native and low water use plans. These designs incorporated DRI.
We have additional work incorporating DRI and CHP testing for LID design for private oil and gas clients and work in a public park.
The United States Department of Agriculture National Resources Conservation and Service defines stream restoration as, “the reestablishment of the structure and function of ecosystems. Ecological restoration is the process of returning an ecosystem as closely as possible to predisturbance conditions and functions.” The restoration process “reestablishes the general structure; function; and dynamic, but self-sustaining, behavior of the ecosystem.”
One important aspect of stream restoration is its ability to preserve and protect aquatic resources. The EPA writes, “existing, relatively intact ecosystems are the keystone for conserving biodiversity, and provide the biota and other natural materials needed for the recovery of impaired systems.”
This is not to say that stream restoration gets rid of the need to protect water resources, rather, it is an additional step that environmental scientists and engineers factor in with other acts of protection and preservation.
As humans build, construct, and shift ecosystems, the Earth suffers the consequences. Animal and aquatic species are affected; in this instance, streams, rivers, and wetlands lose a lot of their function. When governments recognize this and take on projects to restore these areas, we can help reconstruct the function of these important aquatic resources.
Regarding restoring natural structure, the EPA writes, “Many aquatic resources in need of restoration have problems that originated with alteration of channel form or other physical characteristics, which in turn may have led to habitat degradation, changes in flow regimes and siltation. Stream channelization, ditching in wetlands, disconnection from adjacent ecosystems and shoreline modifications are examples of structural alterations that may need to be addressed in a restoration project.”
While we cannot restore most streams to their precise original form, we can approximate the sites original physical attributes, resulting in improved water quality and habitat conditions.
Natural stream ecosystems are one tool (like green infrastructure) – that provide tremendous water quality and ecological benefits without the need for other forms of mechanized or chemical treatment that have their own set of auxiliary negative environmental impacts, like consuming energy and material resources.
Brush layering: Placing layers of branches along the stream encourages new plants to grow from the branches and prevents erosion.
Grading/Planting: If a bank of a stream is steep, it can be graded into sloping steps, facilitating stream flow during heavy rainfall. Planting creates roots which hold banks in place.
Log vane: Logs are placed in the stream as a means of diversion away from eroding banks. Additionally, this creates small pools below the vane where various aquatic creatures can live.
Watearth has worked on several projects for the City of Austin restoring streams. For the City of Austin Thompkins Tributary Stormwater Control Measures Stream Restoration project, we performed a desktop evaluation of flood plains, soils, range of infiltration rates, topography, land use, aerial photographs, critical environmental features, utilities, and impervious cover within the watershed. Additionally, we performed site reconnaissance to evaluate hydrologic and hydraulic features of sites and vicinities at four locations. We developed six sustainable stormwater control measures at four locations determined by City staff, including an elementary school, vacant lot, an existing flood control wet pond, and a tributary (in conjunction with proposed stream restoration measures).
Watearth additionally worked on the City of Austin Walnut Creek Wells Branch Willow Bend Stream Restoration project. We developed three sustainable stormwater control measures at 10% design. Watearth developed 10% planning-level design alternatives in GIS and evaluated alternatives for water quality performance, multi-use features, flood control benefit, construction cost, O&M cost, life-cycle cost, available right-of-way, utility conflicts, and other criteria used by the City for project development.
Contact Watearth today for all your stream restoration project needs.