Invasions are not just military (Part 2)

 

Butterfly Bush

Butterfly bushes displace native vegetation and in spite of the name, negatively affect native butterflies. We didn’t have to go far to take this photo.

In a previous post about invasive species, we learned what invasion meant and who the invaders look like. Now let’s discuss how invasive species get a foot hold in the first place and what can be done about it.

How Invasions Happen

Invasive species can be introduced intentionally or unintentionally. They may be introduced intentionally to benefit the ecosystem by restoring habitat, increasing fish stock, or controlling pests. Unintentionally, they:

  • Are released in ship ballast;
  • Escape from fish farms;
  • Are used in recreational activities;
  • Are used as live bait;
  • Arrive through canals;
  • Are released/escape from aquariums;
  • Are used in unauthorized fish stocking; and
  • Can be introduced by many other means.

In order to successfully invade a new environment, certain biological characteristics are necessary. Many invasive species have high reproduction rates, short generations, long life, high dispersal rates, broad native range, and broad diet. However, not all species immediately survive in new environments. They can fail multiple times before flourishing. Invasion success is context dependent.

Controlling the Invasion

Strategies to control invasive species include (1) keeping potential invaders out, (2) eradicating potential invaders soon after invasion, (3) biological control, (4) chemical control, and (5) mechanical control.

Keeping potential invaders out

Keeping potentially damaging invaders out in the first place is the most cost-effective method. The danger can be reduced by monitoring the common invasion pathways such as ship ballast water, wooden packing material, and horticultural plants.

 Eradicating after Invasion

It is easier to eradicate invasive species if they are discovered quickly and population levels remain low. Even if it proves impossible to totally eliminate an invader, early intervention can keep the population at acceptably low levels. For example, Giant African Snails were effectively eliminated from Florida. Currently researchers in California are attempting to eradicate the marine green alga Caulerpa, a recent invader.

Biological Control

Biological control involves introducing an enemy of an invasive plant (for example, a disease, parasite, predator, or competitor) in an attempt to lower invader population size.

Sometimes introducing a natural enemy from the native range of the introduced pest can be effective. For example, prickly pear cactus, which invaded Australia from the Americas, has been effectively controlled by introducing a moth from South America whose caterpillar feeds on the cactus. In other cases finding an enemy from a different area (a novel association) works because the invader may not have evolved defenses to a species with which it has never been in contact. For example, a virus from South America has been used to control European Rabbits in Australia.

A disadvantage of biological control is that some agents attack nontarget species, becoming noxious invaders themselves, and it is very difficult to remove a troublesome introduced natural enemy once it is established.

Chemical Control

Although chemical pesticides can effectively control some species (for example, water hyacinth in Florida), it can have problems. Pesticides may affect non target species, can be expensive, and may only be effective for a limited time if pests evolve resistance.

Mechanical Control

Mechanical control involves using machinery or human effort to remove invaders, often manually. Mechanical control has been an effective control strategy for invasive Tamarix (arid climate adapted shrub) in the Southwestern United States. Volunteer convict labor has been used in Florida to cut paperbark trees and in Kentucky to rip out Eurasian musk thistle.

Ecosystem Management

The newest technology for managing invaders is ecosystem management, in which the entire ecosystem is subject to a regular treatment (such as a simulated natural fire regime) that tends to favor adapted native species over most exotic invaders. Because it is so new, the specific ways in which ecosystem management can be employed must be determined in each type of habitat.

Want to learn more?

Invasive species are everyone’s problem. Learn more about what you can do to help prevent them:

Washington Invasive Species Council

Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife Aquatic Invasive Species

US Department of Agriculture, Invasive Species State by State

How Many Soil Borings Do Development Sites Need?

One of the challenges that developers – both public and private – face from a geotechnical and environmental standpoint is the inherent uncertainty in what’s underground at the development site. Generally, we’d like to know the geologic layers, soil types, groundwater levels and potential environmental contaminants across a site. But trying to characterize a fairly large volume of soil with just a few pieces of information inevitably leaves knowledge gaps.

An illustration for this challenge comes from an unexpected source – a children’s book. “Sam & Dave Dig a Hole,” written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, is a funny, deadpan story about two boys (and a dog) who dig a hole, hoping to find “something spectacular” (website here). 

Sam and Dave Dig a Hole

Photos courtesy of Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

As the boys dig through the ground, they come close to, but never discover, several spectacular gems.

Sam and Dave miss the gem

In fact, they seem to navigate around everything spectacular.

Sam and Dave digging around the gem

While the book is an admittedly whimsical analogy to geotechnical and environmental subsurface exploration, it actually serves to illustrate an important point – there may be more beneath the surface of a site than a couple of borings will indicate. Skimping on borings increases the chances that zones of contamination or soft soils, may be missed, only to be discovered during or after construction. More borings can help fill in gaps and increase confidence that the site has been well-characterized. In many cases, spending bit more money on site exploration may reduce overall project costs by reducing uncertainty about the site and what may be encountered during construction. And depending on project needs and site conditions, the use of less conventional site investigation methods (Cone Penetration Test, strataprobe) may be appropriate. These can often provide better spatial coverage at similar costs to traditional Standard Penetration Test borings, because they’re cheaper. 

Of course, there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to subsurface exploration. The best exploration program for a project will balance project needs, budget, and local experience with geologic conditions. But in order to minimize the chances of pulling a Sam and Dave, maximizing spatial coverage in the explorations program should be a consideration.

Invasions Are Not Just Military

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic Salmon. Photo: Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission

One of the most destructive forces on an ecosystem is a non-native species with no natural predators or other natural controls. These species can overtake their new home in an extraordinarily short period of time by multiplying, consuming prey, and colonizing, crowding out essential local species.

An invasive species is an organism (plant, animal, fungus, or microbe) that is not only foreign to a specific area or habitat but also has negative effects on its new environment and, eventually, on our economy, our environment, or our health. Not all introduced species are invasive; the distinction is how aggressively they interact with their new surroundings.

Why we Care

Invasive species are the second greatest threat to biodiversity (the first is habitat loss). Almost half of the species at risk of extinction in the United States are endangered directly due to the introduction of non-native species alone, or because of its impact combined with other processes. In fact, introduced species are considered a greater threat to native biodiversity than pollution, harvest, and disease combined. They threaten biodiversity by (1) causing disease, (2) acting as predators or parasites, (3) acting as competitors, (4) altering habitat, or (5) hybridizing with local species.

Invasive species are costly to both society and nature by:

  • Costing Americans more than $137 billion a year (Pimentel et al. 2000)
  • Impacting nearly half the species listed as threatened or endangered
  • Possibly devastating key industries including seafood, agriculture, timber, hydro-electricity, and recreation
  • Impeding recreation such as boating, fishing, hunting, gardening, and hiking
  • Spreading easily by wind, water, animals, people, equipment, and imported goods
  • Increasing the frequency of localized wildfires and adversely affect watering availability
  • Destabilizing soil and alter hydrology of streams, rivers, lakes, and wetlands

Washington State Invasive Species Examples

There are over 50 priority invasive species of concern in Washington State. Here are a few examples that threaten Western Washington.

Atlantic Salmon

Atlantic salmon (many genetically modified) are raised along the Washington and British Columbia coasts; escapes from these aquaculture operations concern fishery biologists and others working to restore native Pacific Northwest salmon runs. As of 2006, the Aquatic Nuisance Species Project states that there have been sightings of juvenile Atlantic salmon on the West Coast. The last reported sightings were on Vancouver Island in 2000.

In recent years there has been specific concern about the potential impact on wild salmon stocks from sea lice (Lepeophtheirus sp.), originating from net pens of Atlantic salmon in British Columbia. Sea lice can kill juvenile fish, even at low infestation levels.

Spartina

Spartina

Spartina flowering in estuary
Photo: Washington State Magazine

Spartina species are aquatic grasses that grow on the mud flats and marshes of Puget Sound and our coastal estuaries. The plants tend to grow in circular clumps called ‘clones’ and are bright green. One particular species, Spartina anglica, was introduced either in shipments of oysters from the East Coast or as packing material in ships’ cargo. It creates large monocultures that outcompete native plant species for space, including rare and endangered plant species, reducing marsh biodiversity and ecological functions.

European Green Crab

European green crab

Juvenile green crab began showing up in Washington waters in 1998. Photo: Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife

The European green crab is a small shore crab that is not necessarily green like its name implies. It typically is found in high intertidal areas and marshes in coastal estuaries and wave-protected embayments, and can live on a variety of surfaces including sand, mudflats, shells, cobble, algae, and rock. It is an opportunistic feeder and aggressive invader. It is native to the eastern Atlantic from Norway to North Africa.

The European green crab is a ravenous predator that eats small crustaceans and many other plants and animals, and can have dramatic negative impacts to native shore crab, clam, and oyster populations. First introduced to the East Coast of the US, green crabs are believed to have caused the collapse of the soft-shell clam industry in New England; their digging habits also have slowed eelgrass restoration efforts. One green crab can consume 40 half-inch clams a day, as well as other crabs its own size. On the West Coast, green crabs were introduced to San Francisco Bay either via ballast water or through the lobster trade. Further invasion north is facilitated by strong advective currents that are associated with El Nino events. The 1998 event brought crabs as far north as Vancouver Island; luckily populations have not established yet. This year’s El Nino may prove strong enough to bring crab larvae into Puget Sound and British Columbia again. How severe the invasion will be, only time will tell.

Scotch Broom

Scotch Broom

A member of the pea family, Scotch Broom has pretty flowers but an aggressive demeanor. Photo: King County

Scotch broom (Cytisus scoparius) is an upright shrub with yellow flowers in the pea family. It grows primarily in open, dry meadows and along roads. It is an aggressive early colonizer and typically shows up in recently disturbed areas. A European native, scotch broom crowds out native species and negatively impacts wildlife habitat by creating vast monocultures. It can form dense, impenetrable stands that displace farmland and/or prevent native species from colonizing. Scotch broom also produces toxic compounds, which in large amounts can cause mild poisoning in animals such as horses.

Coming up: in Part II, we will discuss how invasions happen and what can be done to stop them.

For more information, contact Jason Stutes at jason.stutes@hartcrowser.com.

References: Pimentel, D., Lach, L., Zuniga, R., Morrison, D., 2000. Environmental and economic costs associated with non-indigenous species in the United States. BioScience 50 (1), 53–65.

Shaken and Stirred: Northwest Earthquake and Tsunami

Washington 9.0 earthquake--Are you ready? Oregon 9.0 Earthquake--Are you ready?Suddenly the Pacific Northwest is on the national stage for its earthquake and tsunami vulnerability, thanks to a New Yorker article. “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, has triggered attention from dozens of local papers and news sites. Yet even before the New Yorker shook the Northwest (pun intended), Oregon Public Broadcasting had been featuring Hart Crowser engineer Allison Pyrch in its “Unprepared” series, to alert the region to the impending disaster in hopes that we will get prepared.

Also, Allison recently gave a presentation for the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network: “Surviving a 9.0, Lessons Learned from Japan and Beyond.” If you are involved in emergency management or just plain interested in massive disasters and their aftermaths, settle in for some powerful visuals and easy-to-follow explanations about earthquakes in Japan and Chile, how the 9.0 earthquake and tsunami will happen in the Pacific Northwest, and what you can to do to be resilient.

Watch the whole “Surviving a 9.0” video to get unusual insight into what’s ahead, or if you’re pressed for time, skip to one of these minute points:

  • 9:00 Jan Castle introduces Allison Pyrch 10:56 Allison Pyrch’s presentation begins with how the Pacific Northwest 9.0 earthquake will happen
  • 14:25 Comparing the Japan and Chile quakes “It didn’t stop shaking for a day”
  • 21:45 Fire damage/natural gas 22:30 Water, wastewater, and electrical systems; liquid fuel; natural gas
  • 24:25 Lifelines/infrastructure/airports “PDX will not be up and running”
  • 28:35 Port damage/economics
  • 31:45 How prepared is the Pacific Northwest? When will it happen? “We are 9 ½ months pregnant”
  • 35:00 What will it look like?
  • 37:32 What you can do
  • 40:30 What businesses can do
  • 42:11 Can you be sustainable without being resilient?
  • 43:33 What about a resiliency rating system similar to LEED?
  • 53:30 Will utilities, transportation, hospitals be useable after the 9.0? “We’re toast”
  • 1:01:30 End of Allison’s presentation; additional information from Jan Castle on how to prepare
  • 1:19:19 How sustainability measures in your home lead to resiliency

Applying Net Environmental Benefit Analysis to Contaminated Sites

Exxon Valdez oil spill site

Exxon Valdez oil spill site.

First, do no harm….

Or at least don’t do more harm than good.

That’s the idea behind NEBA—Net Environmental Benefit Analysis—as applied to the cleanup of contaminated sites. As defined by a vintage 1990s Department of Energy paper on the subject, net environmental benefits are:

“…the gains in environmental services or other ecological properties attained by remediation or ecological restoration, minus the environmental injuries caused by those actions.”

Spills like Exxon Valdez Spurred the NEBA
The NEBA concept originated with the cleanup of large marine oil spills. One of the first formal considerations of Net Environmental Benefits was the cleanup of the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Prince William Sound, Alaska in 1989. After the spill, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) looked at whether high-pressure, hot water washing of unconsolidated beaches might actually do more harm to the intertidal habitat—and the plants and animals that depend on it—than just simply letting the oil degrade naturally.

Since then, NEBAs have been used for a few other types of cleanups, including metals contamination in wetlands and organic contamination in sub-tidal sediment, but only infrequently and on an ad hoc basis.

No current NEBA Guidelines, However…
Formal consideration of net environmental benefits has not been more widespread in cleanup decisions, probably because federal and state cleanup frameworks, such as Washington’s Model Toxic Control Act (MTCA), do not explicitly allow consideration of the harm of the cleanup itself and don’t provide guidelines for when the process would apply and how the benefits and impacts should be evaluated.

But that might be changing. At least it is in Washington State, where the Department of Ecology thinks that the NEBA’s time has come. Ecology is working on new draft Terrestrial Ecological Evaluation (TEE) guidance that, for the first time, lays out the implementation of NEBA at cleanup sites under MTCA.

NEBA and Abandoned Underground Mines
In conjunction with Ecology, Hart Crowser has already “test driven” the NEBA concept as it applies to the cleanup of abandoned underground mines. Many of these sites pose risks to terrestrial plants and animals because of the toxic metals such as copper and zinc left behind in tailings and waste rock.

Although the risks to individual organisms living on the waste material might be high, the overall risk to plant or wildlife populations are often fairly low because the extent of the waste material is so small. Nonetheless, the remedy selection process under MTCA would typically lead to a decision to cap the contaminated material with clean soil or to dig it up and haul it away to be disposed of elsewhere.

Bringing Common Sense into Cleanup Decisions
But what if the cleanup involved building an access road? Through mature forest? Or up a steep, exposed mountain side? Or across a stream or wetland? How are those habitat or ecosystem injuries balanced against the benefits of the cleanup itself? Ecology’s upcoming NEBA guidance should go a long way to addressing these dilemmas and bringing some common sense into certain cleanup decisions.

“Especially Valuable Habitat”
The new guidance is expected to introduce the concept of “Especially Valuable Habitat” and how to use it as a threshold for judging whether or not a NEBA may be appropriate for a particular site. It’s also expected to allow some flexibility regarding how injuries and benefits are quantified and balanced.

In the meantime, check for updates on when the new guidance is expected at Ecology’s website.

eDNA: A Powerful Tool for Scientists and Managers

Sampling eDNA in a stream

Using a pump to filter stream water to get an eDNA sample to determine whether salmon are in the stream.

Detecting the presence or absence of a species of interest is a common challenge for scientists and fisheries managers. Whether you’re interested in protecting an endangered species or removing an invasive species, knowing where they are or are not is crucial. Many techniques can be time-consuming or damaging to the local environment, and they don’t always work on more cryptic species. An emerging technique has the potential to address some of these pitfalls: environmental DNA, or eDNA.

eDNA is DNA fragments found in the environment (usually in soil or water) that come from an animal. Animals shed cells from their bodies through routes such as mucous, feces, or skin flakes. Each cell contains a full set of nuclear DNA and many copies of mitochondrial DNA. As these cells break down, the DNA is released into the environment. A researcher can collect samples (such as water or soil samples) and analyze any DNA present (typically mitochondrial DNA) for a match with the target species.

A useful application of this technology is to learn when and where endangered/threatened salmonids are present. Knowing which drainage systems these fish spawn and rear in is essential to managing and restoring their populations. Scientists can take water samples along river and creek systems where they suspect salmon will be. They then analyze the water samples for salmon DNA, and generate maps of fish distribution. If sampling is repeated over time, temporal trends along with spatial trends in salmon populations can be mapped, providing powerful information to managers and policy-makers.

In the future, eDNA may also help determine how many of each species of interest are in a given area. Research into the relationship between quantity of eDNA obtained and population numbers is ongoing.

For more information on eDNA methodologies, see this USGS factsheet.

First Tsunami Safe Haven Building in the United States

Ocosta School Construction

The City of Westport stands sentry at the tip of a narrow peninsula between the expanse of the Pacific Ocean and the protection of Grays Harbor. The Cascadia Subduction Zone, a 700-mile-long earthquake fault zone, lurks approximately 90 miles off the shore. Experts predict this submerged fault zone will release a magnitude-9.0 earthquake and unleash a tsunami that will hit the coasts of British Columbia, Washington, Oregon, and California. The last such “megaquake” struck just over 300 years ago.

As was recently seen in Chile, Indonesia, and Japan, tsunamis ravage low-lying areas such as Westport. There, it is expected that a tsunami from a Cascadia Subduction Zone megaquake could reach the coast in as little as 20 minutes. However, evacuation of Westport and neighboring Ocosta Elementary, Junior and Senior High Schools could take nearly double that time. Therefore, in 2013 residents of the Ocosta School District approved re-construction of an aging elementary school that will include the nation’s first tsunami “refuge” structure.

Construction of the school started in November 2014. The school’s gym has been designed to withstand the impact of a tsunami and the debris it carries, while sheltering nearly 1,000 people on its roof. The roof is 30 feet above the ground (nearly 55 feet above sea level) to keep people dry and safe. The gym’s roof is supported by heavily reinforced concrete towers in each corner that are designed to remain intact during shaking from the initial megaquake, associated aftershocks, and the resulting tsunami surges.

Because of the potential for over 10 feet of scour (soil erosion adjacent to the building) caused by tsunami surges and liquefaction of the native sandy soils, the gymnasium is supported on nearly 50-foot deep piles. The remainder of the school is supported on shorter piles designed to withstand earthquake shaking and liquefaction, but not necessarily tsunami surge forces.

Links below lead to more information on the Ocosta building and general tsunami research. Note that the maps on the last link (Project Safe Haven) illustrate how impossible it would be to escape a tsunami in the Ocosta area.

Rooftop Refuge Washington Disaster News, Washington Military Department Emergency Management Division
Grays Harbor County school to build first U.S. vertical-tsunami refuge Seattle Times
First tsunami-proof building to be built in Westport Komo News
Rising above the risk: America’s first tsunami refuge the Geological Society of America
Project Safe Haven: Tsunami Vertical Evacuation in Washington State

Oregon Public Broadcasting’s Resiliency Blitz Starts January 26

Allison Pyrch of Hart Crowser

Allison Pyrch at a base isolated hospital near Ishinomaki, Japan, talking to Ed Jahn, OPB Producer. With Jay Wilson, Clackamas County Emergency Manager (left) and the hospital engineer. Listen January 26-28 on OPB radio’s Morning Edition between 7 and 9 am and at www.OPBnews.org.

For the last year, Allison Pyrch, a geotechnical engineer with Hart Crowser in Portland, Oregon has been the American Society of Civil Engineers representative to support Oregon Public Broadcasting in the preparation of a 2015 “media blitz” highlighting Oregon’s dire need for improved seismic resiliency.

Allison, the section secretary and a member of the ASCE Technical Committee on Lifeline Earthquake Engineering, travelled to Japan with the OPB Field Guide crew in September to highlight the damage and engineering successes that were observed after the 2011 subduction zone earthquake and tsunami.

The Japan footage, as well as footage from within Oregon, will be used throughout the year to bring awareness to the need for seismic resiliency here at home. The work will culminate with an hour-long documentary in October 2015.

The first segment of coverage will air January 26-28 on OPB radio’s morning Edition between 7 and 9 am can be found now on the OPB website here and here. The series will discuss critical structures in tsunami zones. The January 28th segment will feature Allison and cover how Japan constructs base isolated hospitals that are ready for business immediately after a major seismic event. Tune in and listen!

The Aftermath of the Big One

Building Damage – Concepcion, Chile 2010

Building Damage – Concepcion, Chile 2010

Collapsed Bridge – Route 5 – Chile 2010

Collapsed Bridge – Route 5 – Chile 2010

Tsunami Building Damage – Japan 2011

Tsunami Building Damage – Japan 2011

Tsunami-Damaged Sea Wall, Geotechnical Engineer Allison Pyrch – Japan 2011

Tsunami-Damaged Sea Wall, Geotechnical Engineer Allison Pyrch – Japan 2011

Investing in “resiliency” now can make the difference between thriving or not recovering at all.

To be resilient is to be able to restore to a strong, healthy, and/or successful state within a short period of time after experiencing misfortune or change. Because many global communities have recently experienced a string of natural disasters, we are now considering how “resiliency” applies to society and our infrastructure and, of course, we’re asking about our own communities in the Pacific Northwest. How will we fare after a major natural disaster?

The Pacific Northwest is reasonably resilient when it comes to storms, flooding, and landslides—all natural occurrences we have dealt with on a regular basis. Our public agencies have well-tested plans to get basic, and then full services up and running within hours or days. However, the current projections for damages due to global warming or earthquakes and tsunamis are not so optimistic. Based on the most current data, the Pacific Northwest is overdue for an 8 to 9 magnitude subduction zone earthquake and the resulting tsunami, much like those that hit Chile in 2010 and Japan in 2011. Based on evaluations recently completed by Oregon and Washington, widespread damage and casualties are anticipated. Deaths due to collapsing unreinforced or under reinforced masonry and concrete structures are anticipated including those in many historic downtown areas, schools, and public buildings. Widespread damage to utilities and infrastructure is also expected.

The resiliency plans passed by both Oregon and Washington legislatures predict these specific things:

  • Utilities—including electricity, water, wastewater, and natural gas services—will be out for months, if not years;
  • Our aging transportation infrastructure (already rated poor under normal conditions) will not perform well during the design seismic event; and
  • Total destruction is anticipated in tsunami inundation areas.

Both reports indicate that as things now stand, the Pacific Northwest is not seismically resilient. Not by a long shot.

Achievable?

Getting to “resilient” is a formidable and expensive task for communities. The Cascadia scenario includes an overwhelming list of damage and problems that seems impossible to solve in a timely way, especially given current funding challenges. However, the scale and complexity of the problem does not allow communities to ignore the problem altogether. The Oregon and Washington resilience plans proposed a timeline of 50 years to significantly increase the region’s sustainability, and have proposed putting seismic resiliency at the forefront of planning for the states. The Oregon Department of Transportation (ODOT) and Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) have both started down the path to resiliency.

Having recently completed a large-scale evaluation of their systems, ODOT developed a prioritization plan based on infrastructure quality, the anticipated damage, and public priorities after a Cascadia event. They incorporated this into their overall master improvement plan. As funding becomes available, seismic considerations are now included in design, and repairs and upgrades are completed in a manner that will create large resilient sections of their systems. Further, with their seismic evaluation and agency resilience plan in place, they are in a good position to apply for funding to continue needed upgrades. This model is a good example for other public and private organizations in making resiliency an affordable and attainable goal.

Another idea to consider is how resiliency relates to sustainability. Sustainability has been ingrained in our society and almost every public and private entity generally has a person or position that is responsible for facilitating sustainability. Private and public entities put money into sustainability and it is valued by consumers. But the real question is: Can we be sustainable without being resilient? If a new sustainable building is constructed with the intention of saving additional costs over a 20- to 50-year period (we anticipate the Cascadia earthquake within that time frame) and the structure is not designed to be usable after the quake, can it really be considered sustainable?

The cost of not being resilient deserves serious consideration. If seismic resiliency is not addressed in our long-term planning, our region will not recover from the Cascadia event. Businesses will fail or leave; many residents will also choose to move instead of rebuild; and without the tax base, local agencies will be hard hit and will have trouble rebuilding. The currently booming towns of Seattle and Portland will no longer be destinations for travel or for business.

The path forward—what can we do?

As engineers and scientists who are well educated in the failings of our current infrastructure and our seismic hazard, it is our responsibility to educate the public so that resilience—especially seismic resiliency—becomes a priority. In looking at ways to make resiliency a priority, it is valuable to consider what the resiliency movement can learn from the success of the sustainability push. Engineers, architects, and planners need to find a way to educate the public about seismic risks and to make resiliency something that people understand and are willing to spend money to achieve. When projects are in the planning stages, the additional cost to design the structure for resilience should be factored into the cost analysis. Further, creating a LEED-type rating system for resiliency and seismic safety should be considered. If office buildings, homes, and apartment buildings have resilience or seismic safety ratings, consumers and business owners would start to demand and be willing to pay for the real estate with higher ratings. If a business rents a space that can be used within a week after the expected earthquake, even on emergency systems, it would be significantly more valuable and allow commerce to continue after an emergency.

Statewide resiliency plans, as well as the national push for resiliency after Hurricane Sandy, have brought attention to our lack of resilience as a society. In Oregon and Washington, where the Cascadia event is imminent, resiliency is becoming a more focused goal. Hart Crowser has put together a team to help agencies and private organizations evaluate their resiliency with regard to the Cascadia subduction zone earthquake and tsunami. The team includes an architect, structural engineers, planners, emergency managers, public involvement specialists, and experts in finding funding for projects such as these. We are working with private and public organizations to put proposals together to help evaluate and develop resilience plans on a smaller scale. These plans can be used to apply for funding and be incorporated into master planning initiatives so that resilience becomes a reality.

In addition to this planning, as professionals who are responsible for the design in infrastructure, it is our responsibility to educate the public, as well as our clients, on the risks of not being resilient. A few ways this can be accomplished are:

  • Discussions with public and private clients on the additional cost and benefits of designing new and rehabilitated structures to be resilient beyond code requirements, so that they are resilient beyond the standard life safety requirements of the building codes;
  • Support for legislation and laws that require seismic upgrades and provide funding for resiliency;
  • Support for development of a LEED-like rating system for resiliency of structures and other measures to make “resiliency” the new buzz word in real estate and infrastructure spending; and
  • Education of the public about infrastructure risks and the need to become resilient.

Chase the Rainbow (Smelt)

Kuskokwim River

Kuskokwim River

Individual Rainbow Smelt Eggs

Individual Rainbow Smelt Eggs

We got the call at 3:30 in the afternoon that they were 10 miles below Kalskag. At 6 a.m. the following morning we were on plane, bound for the Alaskan Bush on the Kuskokwim River in search of spawning rainbow smelt. These are river spawners and an important subsistence species for remote Alaskan villages. Concerns that proposed increases in barge traffic may disrupt or scour spawning areas prompted a study to identify where fish spawn and the types of habitats they use. And on the Kuskokwim, they travel fast; getting there in time to study them is one of the biggest challenges.

Rainbow smelt begin their spawning migrations shortly after the ice breaks up in spring. Through word of mouth, Alaskan villagers begin fishing as smelt move upstream. In 2014, smelt moved rapidly, moving upstream from village to village for nearly 200 miles at rate of about 30 miles per day. They spawn just as quickly and immediately leave the river for the ocean. Scientists must plug themselves into this word of mouth network and be ready to fly to remote areas on a moment’s notice.

Upon arriving, we began helicopter and boat surveys covering over 50 miles of river to find and follow the fish, and document the uppermost extent of the migration. This lasted a mere two days before the fish were gone, presumably having spawned and moving back downstream. Next, discrete spawning grounds needed to be identified in a river that flows more than 50,000 cubic feet per second. Eggs are also tiny (0.5 millimeter). Sampling included collecting and examining fish for spawn condition, collecting substrate samples, and sieving substrates for eggs and grain size to determine spawning locations and substrate preferences. All studies needed to be conducted in as little as two weeks before the eggs hatched and all traces of the fish were gone.

Despite all of the challenges, field efforts were successful. Results show that fish spawn on large, low gradient gravel bars in water between 5 and 14 feet deep. Gravel to cobble substrates were most commonly used. Data will be used to better define the potential impacts of barge routes and as a tool to help manage the resource. The ultimate goal is to allow the safe transport of commerce in the river while minimizing impacts to this unique resource for native Alaskans in this remote part of the state.

Rainbow Smelt

Rainbow Smelt