By: Kim DeCoste Issue: Rebuilding Our Infrastructure Section: Business
Cutting-edge Engineering in Every Corner of the Globe
It might be hard to imagine what Pima County, Arizona and the West Basin of the Los Angeles Valley have in common, but like so many highly populated areas in the west and indeed around the country and the world, they are faced with water use issues and the demands an expanding population places on the natural resources. For one area, it’s not hard to understand really. The middle of the desert where vibrant cities like Tucson flourish is a logical place for water to be precious. In the western and south bay areas of Los Angeles, however, many of the cities served by west basin water have the word beach in their names—Hermosa, Redondo, Manhattan and others. They are water-front cities that need to find effective ways to reclaim and conserve the water as much as those in the desert.
The common thread for these two areas is now the connection to CH2M HILL , a global leader in consulting, design, design-build, operations and program management for government, civil, industrial and energy clients which is tucked quietly away in Englewood, south of Denver, Colorado.
CH2M HILL is one of the most highly regarded firms of its type in the world and it is involved in many of the most cutting-edge projects in civil engineering from the Arctic to just about every corner of the globe. It currently employs 23,000 employees and has annual revenue of U.S. $6.3 billion, and is employee-owned. The firm’s record of social responsibility is impressive and it has been listed among FORTUNE 100 Best Companies to Work For five times and named one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by Ethisphere for three consecutive years. CH2M HILL is also ranked as an industry leader in program and construction management and as a design firm by Engineering News-Record and named as a leader in sustainable engineering by Verdanitix. This company has humble origins and few people know how integral water has been to its evolution since 1946 in Corvallis, Oregon.
In Oregon in 1946, an idea came to fruition when three civil engineering students and their devoted professor saw the needs of the post WWII economy, which demanded smart, flexible engineering solutions. The four men, Holly Cornell, Burke Hayes, Jim Howland and Fred Merryfield (thus the CH2M) were convinced that they could apply their skills effectively, and with the right mix of support, determination and skill, they launched a successful firm with the simple philosophy that if they hired good people, remained flexible and shared the wealth, they would succeed. They certainly did.
By 1969, they had completed 5,000 successful projects and employed over 300 people. Their gross revenue in the U.S. was $6.2 million. It was a 1971 first-of-its kind water project for Lake Tahoe that garnered national press coverage from The Wall Street Journal and Reader’s Digest that finally put them on the public map. It was also in 1971 that the firm merged with Claire A. Hill & Associates of Redding, California after the completion of the Tahoe project that gave them the name they now bear.
The company continued its successful trajectory on key international projects over the coming 30+ years as it expanded internationally. CH2M HILL’s successful track record on projects in the Middle East, the Panama Canal and others highlighted its ability to drive successful projects to completion, often shaving millions in costs and years of time off of highly visible complex projects such as the cleanup of the Rocky Flats Closure Project. That project alone was completed 60 years and $30 billion ahead of schedule. Staggering success by any measure!
The ascension of Lee McIntire from president of operations to the helm as CEO in 2009 marked an important point. Challenging economic issues faced many, but for CH2M HILL, there was also opportunity to address global challenges surrounding the environment, energy and water resources. They’ve worked on the world’s first sustainable city, Masdar, near Dubai, and continue working on the Panama Canal Project. Closer to home, in the United States, they will now be driving the success of the West Basin Water Project as well as the Pima County Water Reclamation Facility.
Pima County is the home to Tucson, Arizona and sits in the northern part of the Sonoran Desert. It was the second largest of the original four Arizona counties, and like many places, came into being as a Presidio (or outpost) to Mexican explorers traveling north along the Santa Cruz River to San Francisco. Tuquison, as it was initially called, was the northern-most Mexican outpost through the middle of the 19th century. From its original 356 settlers, it is now the city of Tucson, Arizona’s second-largest city and home to the University of Arizona. The 2005 census data puts the population just under 850,000.
Pima County just broke ground on this project at the end of June, 2011. It will be a new wastewater facility to replace the Roger Road Wastewater Treatment Facility, which was built in the 1950s. The new facility will have the capacity to treat 32 million gallons of wastewater per day and is part of a county reclamation campus. It will reduce nitrogen and ammonia in effluent, which is currently discharged into the Santa Cruz River.
At the groundbreaking ceremony, Senior Vice President Dan Reynolds said, “…thanks to the county for the opportunity to participate in this landmark project. The water campus is part of the largest project that Pima County has ever awarded in its history. Their foresight will protect the environment and water supplies in Pima County for decades to come.”
The county has a broader Regional Optimization Master Plan that will deal with sewage treatment operations and is scheduled to be completed in 2014. The current scope of engagement puts CH2M HILL at the head of the operation- designing, building, and then operating the facility for 15 years with a budget for the Water Campus slated to be $215 million.
West Basin Municipal Water District
Los Angeles as we now know it today is a far cry from the pueblo that began with a tough-to-recruit motley group of 12 settlers and 45 soldiers in 1871 called pobladores, who gathered at the Mission in San Gabriel, just outside of what is today, Pasadena, California. At that time, Los Angeles was part of a lush flood plain where trees and rivers were abundant, and the naturally fertile land easily sustained and supported the communities being built upon it. But growth happened very quickly. From fewer than 5,000 people in 1870 to more than 100,000 by 1900, the city was clearly becoming a mecca. The completion of rail lines, discovery of oil, climate and other factors continue to drive population growth.
By the turn of the 20th century, with the addition of the film and garment industries, Los Angeles was firmly set in a path of growth that would place increased demand on finite resources. The trend never abated. And though the Los Angeles River supported the growth of the first 120 years of the city’s development, it was clear that water from afar would at some point be needed. Southern California, though lush, is a semi-arid climate. Southern Californians ignored that for generations.
Recent census data puts the population of Los Angeles county at 3.8 million and Greater Los Angeles (L.A. and Orange County) at just over 12.8 million. Most of the 12.8 million people travel, live and work freely in the L.A. area and do impact water consumption in the area. The West Basin covers 18 cities and unincorporated areas in southwest Los Angeles Counties, and the West Basin Municipal Water District (WBMWD) began its water recycling program with CH2M HILL in 1990 in an effort to conserve available drinking water and to attempt to minimize its dependence on outside water sources.
Whether building zero-carbon footprint cities, wastewater treatment facilities, or water recycling efforts, CH2M HILL is certainly a leading firm with the know-how and expertise to help clients achieve success.