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ICF soil scientists dig up dirt to preserve the past—and protect our future

Feb 17, 2020
4 MIN. READ

All too often, people look down on dirt. But some of ICF’s environmental scientists look at soil and see so much more than meets the eye. It’s the essential link between our past, present, and future.

Restoring habitats for future generations

Jeff Peters, ICF geomorphologist and restoration specialist, often finds himself studying sediment. “I enjoy exploring the interactions between physical and biological habitat. Suitable soil conditions are critical to the success of any restoration project.”

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The baseline hydrogeomorphic surveys identified eroding banks, head cuts, canyon wall slumps, and other “legacy erosional features” from years of sheep and cattle grazing.
Case in point: A civil engineering firm developed a mitigation strategy for Northern California’s Alameda Creek watershed, the largest watershed in the San Francisco Bay area, to fulfill the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission’s requirements surrounding various water system projects. Then ICF became part of the solution, to implement a mitigation strategy—including the installation of and irrigation for 21,000 plantings of 40 native species across 430 acres. Jeff and his team were brought in to conduct a baseline erosion inventory, vegetation surveys and habitat assessments. Despite several setbacks, the team observed a significant increase in vegetation establishment once our efforts took hold, and reduced bank erosion. (Various restoration projects will also improve the stability of road crossings.) We’ll monitor the site for a total of 10 years, protecting its storied past and preserving its future. 
"Our environmental expertise covers a lot of ground—from close-up analyses to broad-scale evaluations to conservation planning—which our presentations clearly illustrated,” said Joel Butterworth.
ICF scientists in their exploration of a soil pit.
Joel leads a team in their exploration of a vineyard soil pit.

Where present meets past

Of course, no lesson in archeology and soil conservation is complete without a field trip. And after this past spring’s Professional Soil Scientists Association of California (PSSAC) conference—which included presentations from Jeff—ICF’s soil and wetland scientist, Joel Butterworth, was happy to oblige. 

The president of PSSAC, “I used the opportunity to discuss drained and undrained tidal marsh soils,” says Joel. And the effects that diking and draining for agriculture had in the 1850s…and today. All of which lead to salt evaporation ponds and recent habitat restoration efforts. “I appreciate how soils vary in their characteristics across a landscape,” he adds. “Looking at them this way, it’s easy to see soils as a historical record—extending from hundreds of thousands of years during their formation, to the present.” Where they currently influence surface and ground water supplies, affect building site limitations, and of course, remain the foundation for agriculture.

Who knew digging in the dirt could be so much fun?

Learn more about science careers at ICF. 

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