Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 3

This is part 3 of a four-part series about women in fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At King County March is proclaimed Women’s History Month. Historically, careers in STEM fields have been male-dominated. In the Water and Land Resources Division, 45 percent of the nearly 400 employees are women representing the STEM fields — the expertise needed to provide clean water and healthy habitat for all of King County.

We asked a sampling of our ecologists, biologists, engineers, planners and landscape architects how they pursued a career in a historically male-dominated field and what advice they might have for other women.

About the Water and Land Resource Division’s employees

20180412-IMG_4404.jpgJessica Engel is a water quality planner in the Stormwater Services Section’s Water Quality Compliance Unit. She develops and implements a variety of programs that improve water quality and climate resiliency throughout the region.

“I have a Bachelors in Sociology and a Masters in Environmental Law and Policy,” said Jessica. “Both have given me the ability to understand what drives people to treat the environment the way they do and the framework to ensure our natural resources are protected.”

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Mary Rabourn does environmental communications and is on the same team in Stormwater Services.

“I work with regional teams on effective outreach and multicultural communications,” said Mary. “Information needs to meet people where they are, in a form they can use, at a time they need it, and when it is relevant — and exciting — to them.”

Mary began her career in geology and remote sensing and has worked on industrial and residential hazardous waste projects, pesticide safety, and stormwater. She specializes in building personal and community connections to big issues.

DSC_0077Richelle Rose is a program manager for the Snoqualmie River team in the River and Floodplain Management Section where she manages non-structural, flood risk reduction programs to improve resiliency for residents and farms.

“Much of my 25 year career has been focused at the intersection of people and natural hazards,” said Richelle. “It is important to understand the natural environment and how people interact with nature to protect both.  Growing up in Alaska inspired my love for the outdoors and the environment which lead me to pursue a career that respects that balance.”

Richelle has a Bachelor of Science in Geologic Sciences from University of Washington.

Continue reading Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 3

Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 2

This is part 2 of a four-part series about women in fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

At King County March is proclaimed Women’s History Month. Historically, careers in STEM fields have been male-dominated. In the Water and Land Resources Division, 45 percent of the nearly 400 employees are women representing the STEM fields — the expertise needed to provide clean water and healthy habitat for all of King County.

We asked a sampling of our ecologists, biologists, engineers, planners and landscape architects how they pursued a career in a historically male-dominated field and what advice they might have for other women.

About the Water and Land Resource Division’s employees

20180314-IMG_4344Beth leDoux is the technical coordinator for the Snoqualmie Watershed Forum and works in WLRD’s Rural and Regional Services Section.

“I pursued my interest in environmental science at a college and graduate school level,” said Beth, “and have leveraged my communication and leadership skills in my current job to support salmon recovery through improving technical knowledge and partnerships.”

20180412-IMG_4466Alison Schweitzer (née Sienkiewicz) is a stormwater pollution prevention inspector in the Water Quality Compliance Unit of WLRD’s Stormwater Services Section. She has a Bachelor of Science in environmental science and a Bachelor of Arts in environmental studies from the University of Washington.

“I perform pollution prevention visits at all commercial businesses within unincorporated King County,” said Schweitzer, “providing education and technical assistance to businesses and property owners to identify and mitigate potential pollution discharges.

20180314-IMG_3688Olivia Wright is an engineer in WLRD’s River and Floodplain Management Section where she provides technical and engineering support for river and floodplain management programs and projects. Olivia is a transplant from Atlanta, GA who holds a master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Washington.

20180412-IMG_4531Jo Opdyke Wilhelm is an environmental scientist with WLRD’s Ecological Restoration and Engineering Services Unit. She has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Macalester College and a master’s degree in aquatic ecology from the University of Michigan.

“I design, permit, implement, and monitor stream, river and nearshore habitat restoration projects with teams of restoration professionals in King County,” said Jo.

 

Continue reading Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 2

Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 1

At King County March is proclaimed Women’s History Month. Historically, careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) have been male-dominated. In the Water and Land Resources Division, 45 percent of the nearly 400 employees are women representing the STEM fields — the expertise needed to provide clean water and healthy habitat for all of King County.

We asked a sampling of our ecologists, biologists, engineers, planners and landscape architects how they pursued a career in a historically male-dominated field and what advice they might have for other women.

About Water and Land Resource Division’s employees

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Fauna Nopp is a capital project manager in the Rural and Regional Services Section of WLRD’s Ecological Restoration and Engineering Services Unit. She has a degree in landscape architecture and started working on restoration projects as a design team member 25 years ago.

“Over the years I took an interest in managing projects, obtained my project management professional certification,” said Fauna. “Now I manage and supervise some of King County’s largest capital improvement habitat projects.”

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Laura Hartema is an ecologist in the Ecological Restoration and Engineering Services Unit of WLRD’s Rural and Regional Services Section.

She is part of team of engineers and ecologists that develops, designs, permits and builds habitat restoration projects along streams, rivers, wetlands and floodplain environments, followed by monitoring the projects and reporting on outcomes and success. Laura has a bachelor of science in biology and a minor in chemistry.

“I prepared for this job through years of volunteering, internships, stints at a state fish hatchery and a hazardous waste firm, completing UW’s certificate program in wetlands, working as a fisheries observer on Alaska’s high seas, and never giving up,” said Laura.

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Sophie Chiang is a senior ecologist in the Ecological Services Unit of WLRD’s River and Floodplain Management Section.

Sophie provides ecological guidance related to levee design, levee setback, and revetment design and is responsible for the environmental permits of these facilities. Habitat components include fish habitat, mitigation, and restoration for projects associated with flood risk reduction. She has an undergraduate degree in environmental analysis and design and a master’s degree in environmental science.

“Before working for King County, I worked in the field of environmental consulting and with non-profit organizations as a wildlife biologist and gained a wide breadth of project experience along the West Coast, including the Pacific Northwest, Intermountain West, as well as throughout the United States,” said Sophie.

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Heidi Kandathil is a project manager, now with the Department of Natural Resources and Parks, Parks and Recreation Division.

“I work on special projects for the Parks and Recreation Division and am currently working on developing the proposal for the next parks levy,” said Heidi.  “My background is in engineering and urban planning but the Peace Corps is what really instigated my interest in community development and conservation.”

 

Continue reading Water and Land Resources Division’s Women in STEM: Part 1

Land Conservation Initiative: Preserving and protecting farmland and urban green space


What is the Land Conservation Initiative?

The Land Conservation Initiative is the way we can protect the livability, health, and ecological integrity of our region for everyone. Access to nature and open space is the foundation to our collective quality of life. However, development threatens working lands that produce food, jobs, and a rural way of life. The Initiative sets forth the goal of conserving and preserving 65,000 acres of remaining high conservation value lands throughout King County within the next 30 years.

This Initiative is a regional collaboration between King County, cities, business people, farmers, environmental partners, and others that began by creating a strategy to preserve our last, most important natural lands, resource lands and green spaces.

“The main goals of the Initiative are to accelerate investments in land conservation to save money, to ensure critical natural areas and resource lands can be preserved before they are lost to other uses, and to ensure green space for all residents,” said Bob Burns, Deputy Director of King County Department of Natural Resources and Parks. “Prior to the Initiative we estimated it would take 60 to 70 years to protect those 65,000 acres. The goal of the Initiative is to cut that in half.  Because land values rise faster than the growth of our revenue streams, accelerating the pace to within 30 years will save an estimated $15 billion.”

The 65,000 acres of land fall within six categories: urban green space, trails, natural lands, river corridors, farmlands, and forests.

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How is this initiative funded?

The primary funding source is the Conservation Futures Tax (CFT) fund, which is a property tax that exists on all parcels in the county.  The CFT requires a 50 percent match in most cases.

“We work to find match dollars, from other local, state or federal sources, to pair up with the CFT fund,” Bob said. “One way we invest our land conservation dollars is to buy farmland easements on our most valuable agricultural lands. Easements to remove development rights from private lands will preserve farmland and help keep farmland affordable and active, supporting local food production.”

How will it help protect agricultural land and green space in King County?

“Approximately 15,000 acres of the 65,000 acres goal is agricultural land,” Bob said. The Farmland Preservation Program (FPP) is an important component of this Initiative by preserving rapidly diminishing farmland through development rights purchases.

In addition to the 15,000 acres of agricultural land identified in rural areas, the Initiative also plans to protect 2,500 to 3,000 acres of urban green spaces, some of which could be used for community gardens.

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Community gardens and open spaces make us healthier and our neighborhoods more livable

“An exciting component of this Initiative is urban green space preservation,” Bob said. “A key goal of the LCI is to ensure there is green space for every resident in King County. We want to make sure every neighborhood has green space. These green spaces will be preserved in ways that focus on resident interests and needs. The communities will drive how these green spaces will be used, whether that is through a community garden, open space, or other passive use.

“Green spaces provide a multitude of benefits for residents, and not all of our communities currently experience these benefits,” he said. “Every resident should have the opportunity to live their best lives, and providing access to open spaces for every neighborhood will help eliminate disparities in the quality of life for residents.”

In addition to addressing open space inequities, preserving farmland and green spaces will support locally grown food, which helps strengthen the local food economy and increase community resilience in the face of climate change.

“Investing in the preservation of farmland and green spaces will strengthen our local economy and promote a more robust local food system, which will benefit us all,” Bob said.

Learn more about the Land Conservation Initiative here.

New ESJ iMap tool brings together community and capital projects for employees

By Lilia Cabello Drain, Communications Specialist, Department of Executive Services

Back in 2013, the Water and Land Resources Division wanted to find a more efficient way of determining the characteristics and statistics of the populations they serve or would impact when doing capital projects. The information is critical to supporting King County’s equity and social justice goals and better project or program outcomes.

Developed over the last three years through a partnership with King County GIS Center, the Equity and Social Justice (ESJ) iMap application was developed to allow employees to access and view census and demographic data with a geographic context for their projects, programs and reporting.

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A screen shot of the ESJ iMap.

“If employees want to know about capital projects and programs that the Department of Natural Resources and Parks is providing to the public, they can see it here,” said Larry Jones, Senior Water Quality Planner in the Department of Natural Resources and Parks (DNRP).

Using a database called PRISM that draws information uploaded by program managers on Capital Improvement Projects (CIP), the map also shows many relevant spatial data layers about stormwater, flooding, land use, administrative areas and King County demographics data, including age, sex, income, race and language.

While an exciting accomplishment, Larry explains that initially people were unsure how this tool could benefit their work. Therefore, it was necessary to secure employee input and involvement, along with management buy-in, and provide demonstrations of the tool’s ESJ relevance. So in 2016, Harkeerat Kang, GIS Application Developer, and Larry began showcasing the tool.

“We basically just went out on the road and did the ‘circuit’ to sell it,” he said. “We shared it with other teams and groups within DNRP.”

Larry Jones and Harkeerat Kang worked together on the ESJ iMap tool.

Since then, people have recognized the value of the tool and are investing in it by providing project data and identifying relevant information, thus making the ESJ iMap tool more relevant and an evolving mechanism, meaning it could eventually expand to include more data and projects.

“We met with Public Health — Seattle & King County to consider adding their projects into the iMap,” said Larry. “There’s also a big move to reach out to school districts and include their data, but currently the application isn’t designed for that.”

“We still have a lot of homework to do, more people to accommodate and other relationships to pursue, but right now we want to get program managers and employees who do any manner of community outreach using the system,” he adds.

Getting his start in Metro in 1982 before eventually finding his way into the Water and Land Resources Division, Larry works on water quality projects, and coordinates ESJ activities for the Water and Land Division within DNRP. He enjoys his work and sharing the impact of this project with the people around him, looking forward to how King County can continue expanding on its promise to prioritize equity and social justice.

“We don’t know all the opportunities this tool will allow us to pursue, but we can guess some by putting on our residents’ hats,” he said. Currently project managers are using it to assess if certain communities are being inequitably impacted or what languages should information be translated in to better serve all residents.

Harkeerat agrees. Beginning with King County in 1999 as a DNRP intern, she has been in her current role since 2006 and is passionate about working on issues of equity and social justice.

“I love what I do, King County has been very good to me,” she said. “So I get the importance of working on equity because King County has definitely been equitable to me.”

The ESJ iMap tool makes a clear connection between the community and King County employees who use it, providing both a direct link between project management decisions and how they will impact real people, residents and the environment.

It is still in development, with a final rollout intended for later this year or early 2018. As employees use the tool, it will continue to be revised with new features or data to make it more robust, responsive and relative to King County projects and programs. Training will begin in late 2017 with project managers and outreach employees in DNRP initially. Eventually other employees and everyday King County residents will be able to examine or assess who a project will impact, the result of long range project plans, the proximity and type of nearby projects and how best to work with specific communities to successfully complete a project.

King County employees can access the ESJ iMap tool here. For more information about the ESJ iMap project, contact Larry Jones at Larry.Jones@kingcounty.gov or Harkeerat Kang at Harkeerat.Kang@kingcounty.gov.

 

Semhar’s story (or, how to turn water in to work)

 

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Abraha Semhar

Growing up in Eritrea, Semhar Abraha and her family relied on monthly tankers to fill her community’s water reservoirs.

“Everyone in our community would light up when they heard the tankers blow their horns,” said Ms. Abraha.

There was no tap water in her home and water was limited. Her family used the water from washing dishes to flush the toilets. None of it went to waste.

“I watched my mother manage our drinking water and the water for our small vegetable garden,” said Ms. Abraha. “My father is an economist and always has a way of making things more efficient.”

Ms. Abraha attributes her desire to have a career in water management to her parents.

Ms. Abraha chose to pursue an education in engineering in Eritrea where she worked on government water projects such as designing water harvesting and irrigation structures, diversion structures and water canals.

In her research she learned that Eritrea, bordered by Sudan in the west, Ethiopia in the south, and Djibouti in the southeast of the Horn of Africa, is not actually a water scarce country. But the lack of technology available made water scarce to those who live there.

“Eighty percent of the population are farmers but they aren’t using water efficiently,” said Ms. Abraha.

In Eritrea, Ms. Abraha was working as a junior engineer to help build one of the country’s biggest dams when she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in Civil Engineering and came to Seattle to attend the University of Washington.

After completing her degree, Ms. Abraha became the first trainee in the new Stormwater Services Engineering Internship Program. This pilot program is part of the King County Water and Land Resources Division’s equity and social justice work that is designed to train future engineers from under-represented populations in the field of engineering.

“People here are so collaborative. Everyone is willing to help you and teach you things,” said Ms. Abraha.

During her internships Ms. Abraha trained on survey, CAD and asset management projects and has accepted a 3-year position as an Engineer I in the Wastewater Treatment Division.

Ms. Abraha believes that there may come a time when she returns to Eritrea, perhaps to help build a wastewater treatment plant there, but right now she is busy here realizing her dream.