Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

Wildfire and Water: Grant Awarded to Examine Sedimentation Impacts in Poudre River Watershed

poudre watershed location

The Poudre River Watershed is a source for drinking water, recreation, and ecosystem functionality in the Fort Collins, CO area. Source: Coalition for the Poudre Watershed

What is the Poudre River Watershed and why is it important?

The Cache la Poudre River (pronounced “pooh-der” in American English) literally means “hide the powder” in French – the name comes from an instance in which stockpiles of gunpowder were preserved by trappers via burial along the riverside. The river is in northern Colorado and is popular for fishing, as well as hiking and other outdoor activities. To learn more, check out a full exploration of the watershed and detailed overview of how snowmelt impacts the river flow.

The Cache la Poudre River Watershed drains approximately 1,056 square miles above the canyon mouth west of Fort Collins, Colorado. The watershed supports the Front Range cities of Fort Collins, Greeley, Timnath, and Windsor. In an average year, the watershed produces approximately 274,000 acre feet of water. More than 80 percent of the production occurs during the peak snowmelt months of April through July. Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. The region has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

a look at the poudre river watershed

How do wildfires negatively impact ecosystems and successful land management?

Large, severe wildfires can have far-reaching adverse effects on ecosystem function, human health, and economic well-being. Wildfires remove vegetation from the landscape and alter surface hydrology, which increase the risk of flash floods and erosion. Following wildfires, increased runoff can transport large amounts of soil, ash, and debris downstream, potentially contaminating water supplies and threatening water infrastructure and the communities dependent thereon.

Fires are huge erosion factors, and they create large amount of sediment that can then get into rivers and impact the quality of drinking water. Norther Colorado has recently experienced significant wildfires and more are expected, and the Poudre River has already experienced flows of sediment. Fires have already deposited boulders and sediment into the river, but this has been worsened by severe, heavy rains.

An award from the Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed and American Forests Foundation

Reducing wildfire fuels through forest thinning treatments is a common method for reducing the risk and consequences of wildfire. When treated areas do burn, they tend to do so at lower intensities, which results in lower burn severity is lower and fewer undesirable effects. While these ecosystem dynamics are understood, there is still uncertainty about the actual extent of public benefits gained from wildfire mitigation treatments. For instance, if a thinned area experiences a wildfire, how much was burn severity reduced by the treatment, thereby minimizing the sedimentation of waterways that impacts water quality?

The project proposed by SolSpec strives to address the information gap by measuring and modeling the sediment reduction benefits generated by hazardous fuel forest treatments in the Cache la Poudre watershed. The anticipated deliverables will enable stakeholders to better quantify and communicate returns on investment from forest treatment activities and allocate resources for optimized mitigation benefits to the public.

Who are our partners?

The Coalition for the Poudre River Watershed has a mission to improve and maintain the ecological health of the Poudre River Watershed through community collaboration. They work to achieve this mission by focusing on:

  1. watershed resilience;
  2. river restoration;
  3. forests and fires; and
  4. post-fire restoration.

The American Forests Foundation works on-the-ground with family forest owners, partners, and elected officials to promote stewardship and protect our nation’s forest heritage.

Specific goals for the project

In this grant SolSpec aims to answer two specific questions:

  1. H​ow much sediment are Elkhorn and Lone Pine Creek watersheds contributing downstream under current conditions without a wildfire, and what would the percent change in sediment production under current conditions be after a catastrophic wildfire?
  2. Which areas of the watershed are the highest priority for forest restoration treatments in order to gain the largest benefit in potential sediment production within the Lone Pine and Elkhorn Creek drainages?

This work meets the SolSpec vision to transform data into solutions for a safer and more sustainable planet.

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

SolSpec Awarded USDA Grant to Improve TWI Measure for Soil and Vegetation Delineation

Award from the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service

SolSpec is pleased to announce our pending grant with USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service. Our work with them will focus on creating a new and more comprehensive method for quantifying hydrological processes and soil moisture gradients to be used as a tool in delineating ecosystems, vegetation communities, and soil properties.

topographic wetness index

A glimpse of the topographic wetness index (TWI). Blue indicates wet and brown indicates dry.

Who is USDA Natural Resources Conservation?

The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service focuses on improving natural resources and land management. They do this through improving resource conditions, such as soil quality, water quality, water quantity, air quality, habitat quality, and/or energy efficiency. They work with farmers and ranchers to develop conservation plans and implement practices, including water development and vegetation improvements for livestock, improved irrigation systems, and forest management practices that address natural resource concerns on their land. They also promote land management research and data through partnering with federal and state agencies, universities, and professional services to deliver land management information.

What is TWI and how is it used in current land management practices?

 Digital terrain indices to predict soil wetness  generalize topographic variables that drive hydrological processes and are commonly used to help identify hydrological flow paths for geochemical modeling, as well as to characterize biological processes such as annual net primary production, vegetation patterns, and forest site quality” (source). TWI is an excepted analytic for local soil property (biogeochemistry) and ecosystem modeling (vegetation communities and wet land delineations), but limited when implemented over large landscapes. The index is generally extracted from a Digital Elevation Model (DEM), using the specific catchment area (D-infinity specific catchment area) and local hydraulic gradient under steady state conditions represented by local slope angle of the specific grid.

Why is the current TWI model deficient for accurate delineation of soil types?

TWI captures runoff flowing by gravity but fails to consider other factors. For example, locations with similar catchment area and slope can have significantly different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat, and the soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance. The TWI model is used to simulate soil moisture gradients and/or conditions in a watershed; however, it is limited to steady state conditions. Ecosystems do not exist in a steady state. It does not consider factors, such as different soil moisture conditions due to varying characteristics in aspect, terrain, position, temperature, heat and soil physical and chemical properties induced by the solar radiation variance.To better capture this variability, SolSpec is working to develop an enhanced model.

topographic wetness index

Comparing the traditional topographic wetness index with the SolSpec enhanced topographic wetness index. You can visually see the impact that aspect and terrain plays on the moisture content in the enhanced index.

What is the benefit of SolSpec’s Triangulated Ecological Site Potential Model?

The model is highly dynamic and adaptable, capturing variability at multiple scales while adjusting input weight down network based on individual climatic or topographic driver importance. The weights of these drivers and how they impact the local or network soil moisture gradients can be adjusted based on local knowledge or new data. The resulting surface should prove useful for mapping soil (type, drainage, chemical, and physical properties), soil trafficability, and species- or community-based vegetation distributions. Ultimately, the model will help guide land management and operational decision making. It will aid in the grouping or discretizing landscapes for modeling purposes in CEAP-Grazing Lands, and for establishing ecological site and site group concepts for advancement of ecological site development efforts.

Models and tools of this type have the ability to aid in many unforeseen ways until a specialist determines a need and a use.  For instance the TESP model could prove very useful in fire potential and severity prediction. By examining existing vegetation or forest stand composition and density against the TESP model output, dry hillslopes with high fuel loads could be isolated and prioritized for vegetation treatments, reducing the threat to public health and safety in the wildland urban interface .   

So What?

Land management practices are undergoing a transformation through improved data collection and quality, particularly with drones, and increased processing power and analytics. SolSpec aims to enhance the current data offerings that inform land management plans so that decision makers can make better and more efficient decisions on managing the flora and fauna for which they are responsible.

New Gas Transmission Pipeline Rules Expand Risk Management with Tight Timeline

New Gas Transmission Pipeline Rules Expand Risk Management with Tight Timeline

In the aftermath of a natural gas pipeline explosion on September 9, 2010 in San Bruno, California, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) identified several concerns with the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration’s (PHMSA’s) oversight of performance-based safety programs, and recommended that the Secretary of Transportation conduct an audit to address these concerns.

Pipeline safety in the U.S. and many other parts of the world relies on the regulatory concept of Integrity Management. Integrity Management programs – required by the federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA)– stipulate how and where pipeline operators must identify, prioritize, assess, evaluate, repair, and validate the integrity of their pipelines that could, in the event of a leak or failure, endanger human health.

san bruno explosion

The San Bruno pipeline explosion killed eight people at 6:11 pm PDT on September 9, 2010.

Until recently, Integrity Management programs primarily focused on managing risks to human health in High Consequence Areas (HCAs), generally defined as areas along a pipeline in which 20 or more buildings intended for human occupancy could be significantly impacted in the occurrence of a pipeline failure. In other words, the buildings fall within the pipeline’s potential impact radius (see Figure 1). While the potential consequences of a pipeline accident are deemed higher within HCAs, nearly half of all pipeline accident-induced injuries, property damages, and fatalities have occurred outside of HCAs since the promulgation of Integrity Management rules.

Signaling an industry-wide move toward more comprehensive risk management, PHMSA released new rules on October 1, 2019 that expand Integrity Management programs for gas transmission pipelines beyond HCAs to include Moderate Consequence Areas (MCAs). MCAs are defined as areas along a pipeline in which 5 or more buildings intended for human occupancy are located within the pipeline’s potential impact radius in the event of a failure (down from HCAs’ 20-building threshold) (§ 192.3). Additionally, MCAs include sites where 4-or-more-lane arterial roadways are located within a pipeline’s potential impact radius.

medium consequence areas as defined by new PHMSA regulation

Figure 1. Example of how a pipeline’s potential impact radius and nearby structures interact to determine High Consequence Areas and Medium Consequence Areas where operators must implement Integrity Management programs. Wherever an MCA is identified, operators must conduct integrity assessments (§ 192.710) and reconfirm the pipeline segments’ Maximum Allowable Operating Pressure (MAOP) (§ 192.624).

 

According to the new rules, MAOP reconfirmations are required for all HCA and MCA pipelines segments that can accommodate inline inspection instruments and whose MAOP is equal to or greater than 30% of the pipeline’s specified minimum yield strength(§ 192.624).Operators must develop procedures for MAOP reconfirmation of qualifying MCAs by July 1, 2021.

The new rules present a tight timeline for compliance. If operators are to meet the deadline of producing MAOP reconfirmation procedures by mid-2021, they must immediately begin to identify the newly required MCAs – zones that operators have never needed to consider until now.The arc of policy is pushing the pipeline industry evermore toward risk abatement and stewardship of human health. SolSpec’s mission is to help industry efficiently align with and lead the trajectory toward safety and sustainability. SolSpec uses high-performance computing and artificial intelligence to empower operators with fast, meaningful data and analytics that set the bar for hazard identification and prediction, resource allocation, and risk management.

Traditional integrity management programs focus on the integrity of the pipeline; yet, a pipeline’s safety also depends on the stability of its surrounding environment. The Right-of-Way Integrity Management solution addresses external threats to pipelines for a more complete integrity program. The RIMSpec’s annual subscription includes access to high-fidelity terrain and orthomosaic libraries through SolSTAC, access to the SolSpec viewer and deliverables in the form of risk prioritization, monitoring plans, emergency response plans, and analytic layers.

How Soil Movement Impacts Right-of-Way Integrity

How Soil Movement Impacts Right-of-Way Integrity

How does soil movement impact pipeline and right-of-way integrity? Traditional integrity management focuses on the pipeline, but a pipeline integrity also depends on the stability of its environment. A pipeline that is structurally sound but buried in a hillslope at risk for mass soil movement is not safe. 

Earth movement puts strain on a pipeline and can cause a rupture or failure. These ruptures or failures then result in environmental damage and loss in throughput. A May 2019 PHMSA bulletin highlights steps that address the integrity of the areas surrounding the pipeline that may be prone to earth movement. These areas and other zones with geohazard threats are at a higher risk for future incidents. 

One of the common challenges with earth movement is landslides. There are two different types of landslides, also referred to as slips: translational and rotational. Translational slips are what you think of when you imagine a landslide, an incident when the whole hillside falls down and there is a massive flow of dirt coming off of the hillside. A rotational slip is when a bowl forms underneath the ground and the dirt moves below the surface in a circular motion. The soil rotates instead of falling off the hillside, which means it is less obvious that a slip is in progress. Since the change and movement is not clear to the naked eye, it’s very difficult to identify rotational slips until they are fully underway. Continuous monitoring is one way to identify the subtle changes that indicate more happening beneath the surface. 

Several conditions create rotational slips. In Appalachia heavy forestation and steep slopes are a challenge, but the soil also contributes to rotational slips. The soil there is based in clay, which tends to soak up water. Whenever water accumulates, it creates movement on and off the right-of-way, and can create serious risks for pipeline and right-of-way integrity. When there is a risk, being able to direct resources where they matter most has the greatest impact. To do that you need to know where to go, quickly. In both routine monitoring and incident response, timely information is key. 

Soil movement, among other changes, can be detected before it begins to impact pipeline movement, but only with routine flights to monitor gradual change and analytic models to interpret the data. Mitigation efforts are much more effective and efficient if they start at the outset of environmental change, instead of after significant impact has already occurred.

As SolSpec’s COO Bryan Crowe says, “Data is only as good as the decisions that you can make from it.” Given the right information at the right time, operators and contractors can mitigate these issues without a pipeline shutdown.

Timely delivery has been a challenge with data in the pipeline industry. If the data is collected but the report arrives 30 days later, how can that be helpful? A lot can happen in a month, and the delay with reporting combined with the volume of data and the lack of sufficient models to analyze and interpret it has left many without the insights they need to inform their decisions.

If you’re a decision-maker, and you’re responsible for a five-state region, how much time do you actually have to make decisions? There certainly isn’t time to go over a spreadsheet with thousands of entries and identify which ones are the highest priority. The team at SolSpec is focused on providing timely, actionable data, and scalable solutions that make it possible for a client to fly today and have the answer in the morning.

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec Selected for Technology Showcase at Shale Insight Conference

SolSpec’s ROW Integrity Management solution helps detect, predict, and prevent geohazard and environmental risks that affect pipelines.

DENVER, Colorado – Oct. 21, 2019 – SolSpec, Inc., a leading provider of aerial analytics and data management software for energy and civil engineering, will present its aerial pipeline inspection and monitoring solution during the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT™ 2019, the nation’s leading conference on American shale energy, industries and jobs, Oct. 23-24 at the David Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburg, PA.

SolSpec is among only seven companies selected to present at the Technology Showcase taking place Oct. 24th from 9:00 am to 10:45 am. SolSpec Chief Operating Officer Bryan Crowe will discuss SolSpec ROW Integrity Management, an aerial mapping, modeling and inspection solution for proactively addressing landslides, stormwater runoff, vegetation encroachment, and other geohazards and environmental risks that affect pipeline right-of-ways.

“The use of aerial analytics for pipeline inspection and monitoring creates extraordinary efficiency and accuracy for Pipeline Integrity Management programs, delivering data and actionable insights that support safer and much more efficient pipeline operations,” said Bryan Crowe, COO of SolSpec. “We’re honored to be selected as one of the presenting companies in the Technology Showcase at SHALE INSIGHT and look forward to demonstrating how SolSpec is being used to prioritize how crews monitor pipeline assets to lower risk and prioritize resources while reducing operating cost and increasing safety.”

The Appalachian region remains the largest natural gas-producing region in the United States. Appalachian natural gas from the Marcellus and Utica/Point Pleasant shales of Ohio, West Virginia, and Pennsylvania continued to grow, with gross withdrawals increasing from 24.2 Bcf/d in 2017 to 28.5 Bcf/d in 2018. As demand rises, ensuring efficient, safe and environmentally sound transport of natural gas through interstate pipelines and other critical infrastructure are paramount to the future of the shale industry. Identifying environmental conditions on and off the ROW that may threaten the integrity of pipeline infrastructure is crucial for expediting incident response and providing ongoing proactive issue mitigation.

SolSpec ROW Integrity Management is a data-driven environmental and geohazard risk analysis and modeling solution for analyzing known and potential threats to right-of-ways. A full-service offering, SolSpec’s team of data scientists and FAA-licensed pilots start by first collecting photogrammetry and LiDAR data within the right-of-way via manned or unmanned aircraft and create a baseline risk assessment with plug-and-play flight plans for ongoing monitoring of high-risk areas. Data is then processed via SolSpec’s secure cloud-based geoprocessing platform and proprietary analytical models based on analysis of over 1.7 million acres of landslides and ROW projects to create high-resolution maps and 3D models for comprehensively visualizing and quantifying risk to pipeline safety by measuring slip conditions, hydrology, erosion control, and slip potential. Models and analysis consider factors as specific regional population density, product type, class location, potential impact radius, and environmentally sensitive areas and produce simple, actionable easy to use reports. With this information, operators can allocate resources to the areas that may have the largest impact, mitigating risk, accelerating incident response and time to repair, reducing costs and improving public safety and environmental responsibility.

In addition to the Technology Showcase presentation, SolSpec will demonstrate its solutions at SHALE INSIGHT, exhibitor booth 334.

About SHALE INSIGHT:
Hosted jointly by the Marcellus Shale Coalition™ (MSC), the Ohio Oil and Gas Association and the West Virginia Oil and Natural Gas Association, SHALE INSIGHT™ is a leading and widely-attended policy, innovation and energy outlook-focused forum. As part of the conference, the MSC Research Collaborative will host the annual Technology Showcase on October 24, 2019 from 9:00 am – 10:45 am in which suppliers of emerging technologies introduce their innovations to the natural gas producer, midstream/pipeline, downstream and service communities. More information shaleinsight.com.

About SolSpec:
SolSpec was founded in 2017 with the goal to improve environmental and public safety and to increase efficiencies for the energy industry. SolSpec’s aerial analytics and data management platform represents best-in-class data processing for all aerial imagery. Leading companies in the energy, oil and gas industries rely on SolSpec to transform aerial data into actionable insights that inform decisions to create a safer and more sustainable planet. Visit us online at solspec.io.

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

How Can Big Data Impact Land Reclamation?

Toby Kraft, Founder and CEO of SolSpec, spoke about “Playing Offense and Being Industry Advocates” at the May 19, 2019 Summit for Reclamation and Construction. The annual Summit, hosted by Huwa Enterprises in Keenesburg, Colorado, is a unique conference where professionals come together to learn, share, and network with industry experts dedicated to protecting the environment.

“So as all good millennials do, I wake up every single day and spend every waking hour engaging with some social media platform,” Kraft opened, introducing the value of big data by drawing a common big data comparison with the advertising world. Social media platforms store extensive information related to their users’ interests, and the massive amount of data generated by millions of users drives much of the backbone of modern marketing.

Why let retail be the main industry that capitalizes on big data? Why aren’t the construction and reclamation and energy industries taking advantage of big data for their projects? These are the questions at the core of Toby’s presentation. Collecting data and providing information from past and current projects can build benefits for all – we can learn from the mistakes others have made and drive future success. “A lot of you are probably thinking ‘Yeah, okay, that sounds utopian,” quipped Kraft.

Big data can empower decision makers in the construction, energy, and reclamation industries and result in safer, more successful projects. But success can only come from working together to improve our industries’ practices. Kraft called on his colleagues at the Summit to remember that “our neighbor’s failure or our competitor’s failure is our failure.” Collaborating and building databases of geographic information doesn’t weaken your company or strengthen the opposition. Uniting our data and sharing information is the approach that will keep our industries strong, because without it our future work is threatened.

Kraft’s vision with SolSpec is not just to identify hazards that already exist. Combining data gathered regarding surface hydrology, soil information, geologic details, and the massive stores of siloed data that runs across the industry and third parties makes it possible to predict future hazards. A prioritized list of current and potential hazards empowers decision makers to prioritize mitigation efforts and resources, and do better work for long-term success and improved community relations.

Diving into real-life scenarios, Kraft highlighted for the audience the value and impact of data-driven solutions in land reclamation and construction. One example was Appalachia, one of the richest areas in natural gas in North America. Recent construction of infrastructure, more in the last five years than in the previous fifty, has resulted in loss of vegetation in deciduous forests. These forests and unconsolidated soils cover the characteristic steep slopes of the region. Big rainstorms in this context can cause mass soil movement and landslides, which compromise local pipelines and assets. Compromised pipeline and right-of-way integrity cause undue risk, environmental damage, and financial loss.

Another example Kraft discussed was California, which is dealing with increased threats from fires. Last year’s Camp Fire burned 150,000 acres, destroyed the city of Paradise, and killed 46 people. The likely cause of the fire was a spark from a utility asset that caught the vegetation near the asset. Data gathered from flyovers and processed with analytics can reveal vegetation encroachment. That information can help direct fire prevention efforts around existing utilities and stop a destructive disaster.

“What could the headlines look like a year from now if we all come together around these issues and we get ahead of it and we play offense? What could the future look like?” asked Kraft. Fewer disasters, increased efficiency, prioritized use of resources, and improved reputations for our industries. To learn more about how Kraft and the team at SolSpec are taking our industries to the cutting edge, go to https://solspec.io.

If you’re interested in attending, sponsoring, or exhibiting at the 2020 Summit, go to www.usareclamation.com for more information.