When the opportunity arose in 2011 to volunteer as the technical lead for an Engineers Without Border–USA health sanitation project in Yamabal, El Salvador, Nathan Chase, P.E., QSD, LEED AP ND, ENV SP, M.ASCE, jumped at it.
“I was involved in the project right from the beginning,” explains Chase, whose project goal was to design and construct composting latrines and develop a water treatment system to provide clean drinking water. “I first went down [to El Salvador] with EWB to do an assessment and meet with members of the community to determine what their most pressing needs were. When I returned to the U.S., I worked with a team of engineers to design a customized latrine – a dual-vault composting latrine that would be built and replicated broadly throughout this community.
“I then returned [to El Salvador] to implement our first pilot project where we worked through all the different challenges of getting that [system] built. It was really exciting to see what can be accomplished when you bring some passionate engineers together with the community and help people with very limited resources to achieve healthy outcomes for themselves and their families.”
Reflecting on his work, Chase comments, “I know that I am not alone among civil engineers who get excited about finding creative solutions that are environmentally sensitive to the infrastructure and [the] global challenges we face today. I really think what I have learned thus far in my short professional career is that collaboration, innovation, and risk-taking are essential qualities for a civil engineer.”
After graduating from Northeastern University with bachelor’s degrees in both civil engineering and environmental geology, and from Stanford University with a master’s degree in civil and environmental engineering, Chase joined Arup and his work there included master-planning projects that set the course toward more sustainable communities featuring integrated water, wastewater, and stormwater infrastructure – such as the Port Whitby Sustainable Community Plan in Ontario, Canada, and the Yongsan International Business District in Seoul, South Korea.
Striving to design projects that “become a part of people’s lives,” he notes that one of the projects he is most proud of is the Autoroute 30. Arup was the lead designer for the $1.5 billion (Canadian) A30 project – one of the largest design-build public-private partnership projects in North America. Owned by the Ministry of Transport Quebec, the A30 is connected to several principal highways in the greater Montreal area and was designed to replace Route 132 as the main artery linking the communities along the South Shore of the St. Lawrence River.
“This was one project that I got to see from early design through to being built,” recalled Chase of the project that opened in December 2012. “We worked very closely with the contractor to design efficient drainage systems for two long-span bridges that make them safer and easier to use for drivers in a climate where it rains an average of once every three days.
“To accomplish that, we considered the structural longevity in directing the drainage water away from the structural members to avoid chloride exposure. We also protected the sensitive habitats in close proximity to the project from bridge water runoff by piping it further downstream into a stormwater management system. I am excited about our design, as a primary focus was sustainability.”
Since joining URS (now an AECOM company) in 2013 as a water/wastewater engineer, Chase has had the opportunity to work on wide variety of water, wastewater, and stormwater projects throughout the entire project lifecycle: from planning and design, through construction, and into operation and maintenance. Of the Trampas Canyon Dam and Reservoir reconstruction project in Orange County, California, he says, “The facilities URS is designing will help comply with the statewide mandate to reduce urban potable water use by 20% by year 2020. The expanded reservoir will allow highly treated effluent from a local water reclamation plant to be stored to balance seasonally fluctuating irrigation demands with a relatively constant recycled water supply.”
As the recently appointed co-chair of the ASCE Orange County Branch’s Sustainability Committee, Chase is committed to helping educate civil engineers and others throughout Orange County on how to incorporate sustainability into their projects and professional work.
“That is something that I have been pretty zealous about,” says Chase, who is proud of earning his ENV SP, which signals that he is trained and credentialed in the use of the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure’s Envision sustainable infrastructure rating system. “What we’re trying to do [in Orange County] is educate engineers, public agencies, and clients about the value [sustainability] could bring to their projects in terms of its impact on the community, on improved lifecycle costs, and to enable infrastructure projects to not only meet today’s needs but also future needs – and even help restore the environment. That’s a concept that goes beyond what’s been the standard in the industry.”
“I’m really excited about the opportunity that being a New Face of Civil Engineering brings, highlighting the important role that engineers play in solving some of the most pressing challenges of our day, including the threats of climate change and how our infrastructure must adapt to be more resilient,” says Chase.