An ambitious, game-changing Green River floodplain restoration project accomplished by DNRP’s Water and Land Resources Division (WLRD) landed among the big winners when King County Executive Dow Constantine announced his 2021 Performance Excellence Awards last month.
The Performance Excellence Awards are annually bestowed to employees and workgroups at King County for exceptional contributions in performance, leadership, and innovation.
The large-scale, complex čakwab (previously titled Lones) Levee Removal and Floodplain Restoration Project proved more than worthy of the Sustainability Innovation Award honor.
And as we vigorously celebrate WLRD’s big win, we also are delighted to recognize and celebrate DNRP’s eight other worthy 2021 Performance Excellence Award nominations.
DNRP Performance Award Innovation Nominations
Click on the nomination to learn more about each project or leader.
Lones Levee (čakwab) Removal and Floodplain Restoration Project, WLRD
This $6.2 million Water and Land Resources Division project is one of the largest multi-benefit projects ever accomplished on the Green River and will improve fish and wildlife habitat while protecting nearby farmland, homes, and roads from flooding and erosion for generations to come.
The project’s success – it was completed on time and under budget – is attributed to its leadership and teamwork, including project manager Dan Eastman and project engineer Chris Ewing, salmon recovery project coordinator Suzanna Smith (WRIA9), and Green River basin steward Josh Kahan among many other colleagues and partners.
Large-scale, complex capital projects in developed watersheds typically take at least a decade to complete, but the WLRD team and their partners completed this project in just six years, from design to completion.
The end result is a stretch of prime salmon habitat featuring more natural conditions with three side channels that provide juvenile fish with the ideal habitat they need to rest, rear, and hide from predators, increasing their odds of surviving the journey to the Pacific Ocean and returning as adults to spawn.
The site will now be known by its traditional Lushootseed name, čakwab, pronounced “chock-wob,” as identified by the Muckleshoot Indian Tribe. The name was applied to this place by Tribal ancestors to mean “bring something to the water.”
WTD’s Recycled Water Demonstration Garden
The Sammamish Valley is one of four designated agricultural production districts in King County and is home to many vegetable farms. WTD partnered with the Washington Water Trust and researchers from Washington State University and the University of Washington Tacoma/Seattle in a two-year research project to demonstrate to local farmers and community members the safety and effectiveness of recycled water.
Switching irrigators to recycled water – thoroughly treated wastewater that is safe for most all uses except drinking – has been identified in the King County Strategic Climate Action Plan to improve conditions in the Sammamish River for threatened salmon populations that are being impacted by climate change.
Our research aimed to evaluate perceptions and address concerns about the safe use of recycled water on food crops, and to reduce the reliance on the Sammamish River for irrigation. Recycled water is strictly regulated, and we remove harmful pathogens. But there is growing concern about trace amounts of unregulated chemicals in recycled water, known as contaminants of emerging concern, which come to our treatment plants from outside, such as everyday products like medicines and shampoos, food packaging, and clothing.
In July 2020, we built and planted several raised garden beds at the WTD Hollywood Pump Station in Woodinville. We irrigated one area with recycled water, the other with water from the Sammamish River. Researchers studied the plants from each group and analyzed growth and soil health to determine what chemicals may be present. We are consolidating the data in a final report and this year the team will reach out to area farmers and the community with our findings. This project was funded King Conservation District, Bullitt Foundation, and King County Wastewater Treatment Division’s Waterworks Grant and Recycled Water Programs in partnership with Washington Water Trust.
Equity and Social Justice
WLRD’s Spotlight on ESJ Lunch and Learn Series
WLRD employees Claire Johnson and Carla Nelson created a virtual ESJ Lunch and Learn series in 2021 to spotlight projects and programs from across DNRP that have incorporated equity practices into operations and projects. They worked with others in their division, across DNRP and beyond to initiate and facilitate a broader scope for sharing equity practices with County workforces beyond WLRD.
The intent behind the series was to build a community of practice for our workforce to strengthen skills in equity leadership and to be inspired by the creativity of colleagues in operationalizing ESJ into their day-to-day work. Series content was developed in partnership with ESJ leads and included the following topics:
- Stormwater Engineering Internship Program (WLRD)
- Commercial Driver’s License Program (SWD)
- 1% for ESJ Pilot Project (WTD)
- Equity Recruitment/Hiring (WLRD)
- Open Space Plan, Equitable Park Access (Parks)
- ESJ Clarifier Blog (WTD)
- Farm Lease Program (WLRD)
- Green Stormwater Infrastructure Program (WLRD)
- Ethnic Media Outreach (WLRD)
- Grant equity scoring process (WRIA8/WLRD)
- No Child Left Behind (WLRD)
The sessions were well received with over 100 attendees in most cases, resulting in a workforce with increased shared understanding of equity concepts and tools to incorporate equity into our operations.
Cooperative Fire Response, SWD
On June 28, 2021, the Puget Sound region was experiencing a third day of withering heat, with temperatures reaching a record-setting 108 degrees, when a fire broke out in a Bonneville Power Administration easement that traverses the southern edge of the Cedar Hills Regional Landfill outside the fence line. The fire spread to 20 acres and threatened both the landfill and the nearby community.
First responders were having difficulty reaching the area where the fire was burning, needing immediate space to stage equipment and a place to care for their employees during the event.
With heavy equipment on hand and skilled operators that know the terrain, Solid Waste swiftly deployed them to cut roads into the burn area, creating paths for fire equipment and personnel.
The size of the fire and duration of the firefighting effort required that we provide a staging area and recuperative facilities such as cooling rooms to facilitate continuous response to the fire and care for first responders. Our highest priorities were the needs of the firefighters, the safety of our neighbors, and the protection of critical infrastructure.
Operations management relied on landfill employees’ unique knowledge and experience in response to this emergency. Our heavy equipment operators worked with Eastside Fire and Rescue to cut strategic fire breaks, critical to containing the fire. Meanwhile, our employees stepped up under very challenging circumstances to sustain our landfill operations. This four-day coordinated effort ultimately ensured that there was no damage to residences or critical infrastructure.
Parks’ Beautification Team – Jobs and Housing Program
The County’s Jobs and Housing Program, first implemented in July 2021, set out with the goal to successfully develop, implement, and evaluate a program that provides temporary subsidized employment, career preparation, and housing services to individuals experiencing homelessness.
The King County Parks Division was first to volunteer to take on this challenging effort and quickly put together a team to develop and implement the first Jobs and Housing Program cohort. Parks’ program focused recruitment events at emergency shelters to offer people experiencing homelessness the opportunity to join Parks Beautification Crews, earning salaries that can help them transition to permanent housing. The new program applies the Rapid Rehousing model developed by the King County Department of Community and Human Services to connect participants with housing.
In 2021, the program increased the King County Parks’ seasonal crews by 36 people who were experiencing homelessness. The additional workforce was particularly helpful as more people than ever have been enjoying the regional parks and trails during the pandemic.
Operator-in-Training (OIT) Program, WTD
King County’s Wastewater Treatment Division is the largest wastewater operator employer in the region. There is a shortage of operators and despite competitive pay and a great safety record, we frequently had trouble filling operator vacancies.
Operators have special knowledge, unique skills, and must be certified – which is a process that can take years to complete. Our utility needed a way to bring in talented, new people and help them get certified as quickly as possible. We started an Operator-in-Training (OIT) program in 2015 to find and train our own operators. Without this program, we would have had excess vacancies and trouble maintaining minimum operator staffing levels – which would have threatened the County’s ability to protect public health and the environment.
The program strives to increase diversity in our workforce. We assess candidates on skill and ability; no experience or higher-level education is necessary to apply. Participants receive a family living wage while being trained for a life-long career at the County with future promotional opportunities. They work side-by-side with certified operators, learning on the job, through hands-on training.
Since 2015 WTD has supported five OIT classes, training 67 people with 47 obtaining their Washington State Wastewater Operator Certification and working at WTD. The largest group of OITs joined our division in May. These 20 candidates of the 2022-23 OIT class, make up the sixth class of future WTD operators.
WLRD’s Connected Where We Work
Many of us have seen our pandemic-related telework stretch from months into years. Faced with online meeting after online meeting, a group of concerned WLRD employees brainstormed how they could ensure that new employees coming onboard remotely would reap the benefit of knowing the breadth and depth of the talent, skills and resources the 400 people in the division offer.
Beth leDoux developed the concept, and along with team members Alison Schweitzer, Andrea Wong, and Blair Scott initiated a pilot program they named Connected Where We Work (CWWW). The goal was simple yet powerful and necessary: connect with new staff so they would have a better understanding of the organization, meet potential mentors and facilitate introductions, and join cohorts.
All employees that had been in WLRD for less than three years were invited to participate. CWWW team members solicited help from experienced staff to lead and counsel cohorts, serve as networking partners who could be contacted for more information about their work, and answer questions or help new staff members make additional contacts.
The result was seven cohort leaders in addition to the four convening members, and 42 networking staff supporting the effort. The program included eight online meetings to introduce the mission and work of the division; two panel discussions; 10 presentations (from WLRD and other divisions); and two networking meet and greets. Sixty-one new employees chose to participate, resulting in the creation of 11 cohorts.
In a final review session, new employees expressed a desire for more informal peer-to-peer engagement, which is being explored, and said they appreciated the opportunity to obtain a sense of the diverse yet related work occurring across the agency.
DNRP Leadership Excellence Awards Nominations
Bing Subelbia, Parks
King County Parks nominated Bing Subelbia, Parks Assistant Parks Operations Section Manager, for her instrumental leadership in bringing together a team within the Parks Division and County agencies to develop and implement the Jobs and Housing Program, which is designed to assist people experiencing homelessness to gain employment and earn salaries that can help them transition to permanent housing.
Bing’s commitment to excellence set the tone and inspired Parks Operations staff to lean into the program goals, leading to the development and mobilization of on-the-ground beautification crews performing much-needed maintenance projects within our parks while making noticeable, positive differences in participants’ lives.
Through her work on the project, Bing truly embodied Parks’ and King County’s values and made strides instilling those values in the workplace. She established relationships that motivated and empowered others to achieve results that will get us to our True North: Making King County a welcoming community where every person can thrive.
Hans Erickson, WTD
WTD has the largest capital program in King County government and invests over $200 million annually in capital projects to plan, design, and construct wastewater infrastructure. We use a database called PRISM (Project Information System Management Database) to manage our 200-plus active projects and 100-plus active consulting and construction contracts. PRISM is such a good tool for managing the capital program that it has expanded to serve 11 divisions throughout the County.
WTD designed and refined PRISM back in the 1990s when we realized there were no suitable commercial applications for electronic project management.
Hans Erickson is the architect of PRISM. He led his team to develop PRISM from a basic forecasting program to the project tracking powerhouse it is today. Through Hans’ leadership PRISM has expanded to include monitoring and tracking of equity and sustainability efforts on capital projects, as well as implementation of a real property management and permitting module, and a management tool for tracking human resource allocations on projects.
Monitoring and control of capital projects has been improved though the integration of numerous key performance indicators and dashboards that were developed under Hans’ leadership. Hans understands data and shares it in a way that is accessible and appreciated by staff and leadership. Hans embodies Lean thinking by constantly centering customer needs and continuously improving the product.
Hans excels as a leader, taking his role as coach and mentor seriously, checking in with staff regularly, providing constructive feedback and celebrating successes. Hans is constantly looking forward, assessing need, and encouraging greatness, both from his staff and their products.
These nominations are a testament to great work happening all across DNRP and we are excited to learn about 2022 projects and leaders to consider for the next round of Performance Excellence Award nominations in January.