Case Studies

PACE Advanced Water Engineering: Partnering with Nature to Protect a Critical Resource

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PACE Advanced Water Engineering (PACE), a specialized civil engineering firm based in Fountain Valley, Calif., offers advanced water resource services. For over a quarter-century the company has focused on providing out-of-the-box solutions to ensure water resources are utilized and managed wisely for applications including multiuse water infrastructure systems that include environmental, aesthetic and recreation uses and cost-effective water quality treatment designs. PACE’s experience has taught the company that the best water resources solutions are those that benefit both mankind and nature.

In Partnership with Nature

Johan Perslow, PE, founded PACE in 1987. After many years as a civil engineer in the construction business, Perslow sought to take his knowledge to the next level and build a company that could improve the state-of-the-art of water resources design, as well as incorporate multiple benefits to both man and nature into a wide variety of water-related projects, including water quality management, wastewater recycling and flood control. In fact, the company’s very first project was the water systems for the prestigious Biosphere2, which showcases the synergy of physical systems. The company remains grounded in Perslow’s original vision, though it has expanded its capabilities to encompass all aspects of water in the natural and manmade environment.

Pioneering Sustainable Ideas

“By taking what we know about water engineering, construction and natural processes and what we can envision about sustainability, we make a difference,” explains Mark E. Krebs, PE, president of PACE. “We’re heavily weighted in engineering and science. We want to lead our industry by developing new technology.” Krebs has been instilling this sense of innovation in PACE since he joined the company in 1989.

PACE’s dedication to water resource management and science resulted in the company’s current headquarter facility, which includes a large warehouse space that has allowed the company to expand its water chemical and physical modeling labs over the last decade. PACE currently employs a team of 50 highly skilled and licensed professional engineers, drafters, Geographic Information Systems (GIS) specialists and graphic artists.

“We’re different from other firms because our ratio of staff to PEs is about 2-to-1,” details Krebs. “By and large, our PEs all have their master’s [degree] or Ph.D. We might not be the largest company out there, but we have the best modeling capabilities and most-qualified staff.”

PACE has the ability to service the southwestern U.S. along with national and international markets, especially in Central America, South America and China, where activity is booming. Building on over two decades of experience and disciplines including hydrology, hydraulics, sediment transport, computer modeling, water and wastewater treatment, PACE has developed innovative water management solutions for its clients across all continents, gaining recognition and a reputation for expert service.

A prime example of PACE’s ability to develop a unique solution informed by a different perspective is the company’s flood control work at the Santa Clara River. “About 10 years ago we were approached by a large land development company that needed us to find an erosion protection solution for the river,” recalls Krebs. “They challenged us to find an answer to the problem. Santa Clara is one of the few remaining natural dry rivers in Los Angeles County. The community and environmental agencies were determined to keep it as such, while still providing flood protection.”

PACE turned to a sustainable idea: soil cement. Soil cement uses native soils combined with less than 10-percent cement to create natural-looking sandstone lining for the riverbed. “We aren’t the first to use soil cement by any means, but we were the first to use it for such an application in Los Angeles County,” shares Krebs. “From a carbon-footprint and cost standpoint, there is no comparison. This application eliminates quarrying and pollution and disturbances by hauling truck traffic and also uses the material already in the ground, providing a huge cost savings.

“Spending more money isn’t sustainable,” continues Krebs. “We’re doing our job as scientists and engineers if we provide a product that is durable and creative.” In addition to the cost savings and carbon footprint reduction, PACE’s soil cement bank lining designs also provide wildlife habitat and aesthetic benefits. The soil cement lining is constructed behind the original riverbank, and then buried as the riverbank is reconstructed. The resulting product is a riverbank that supports the same natural habitats and appearance as the natural banks of the river, and also provides flood protection in the rare event of a large flood. These benefits to nature, community and client illustrate PACE’s multifunctional approach to water resources design.

To date, PACE has planned designed and managed construction of 33,000 lf of soil cement bank protection and is currently in the design phase of another 36,000 If. The overall construction cost savings is about 40 to 60 percent over conventional methods, with a 30- to 50-percent reduction in construction time. The company’s work was such a success that the Los Angeles County Department of Public Works set this method as the standard for other similar projects.

Innovation and Research

PACE also specializes in laboratory research, such as creating scaled models of projects that provide life-sized benefits. When Orange County needed around $30 million in flood control protections to run under freeways, it called on PACE, one of only two private companies (and some universities) capable of this type of modeling.

“We created a physical hydraulic model of multiple channels and pipelines converging together, because computer models were not providing reliable data,” describes Krebs. “It was a 15-to-1 true-scale model, which helped us analyze all of our options.” The 150-foot long flume PACE designed was up and running within three months.

The project generated attention from every flood control agency in the area, universities and other institutions. “We keep our eye on advanced solutions, that’s why a lot of the work we’ve done isn’t in the textbooks,” adds Krebs. “We’re the guys who come up with new ideas and deliver them to the market. As a result, we get a lot of calls from counties and cities.” Indeed, the company’s business has shifted; whereas at one time PACE worked primarily for private land developers, now PACE performs 60-percent public and 40-percent private work.

Water Resources Experts

Aside from storm water and floodplain management, PACE offers recreational water and environmental water services. PACE has an environmental water laboratory to support developing and testing innovative methodologies and pioneering methods of remediating environmental waters and analyzing water and wastewater treatment. It provides services for all stages of the water cycle – sourcing it from ground and surface areas, pumping and conveyance, treatment for drinking water, water reclamation treatment, reuse and groundwater recharge. The company, which also has the capabilities to apply GIS on water resource applications, truly runs the gamut in its services, which include wastewater and water treatment, recycling, lake water quality systems, manmade lakes, streams and water features that are as breathtaking as they are functional.

“There really aren’t a lot of companies around that design high-end resorts and pools and also wastewater treatment and flood control,” explains Krebs. “Part of our strength is being able to combine those into a complete solution, whether it’s reducing the land or infrastructure footprint or design solutions that integrate the various aspects of a project.”

PACE competes and stands out against larger firms in the industry by providing creative solutions. Krebs looks forward to the company’s future. “What’s exciting is thinking about future projects and what we can do,” shares Krebs. “We’ve made great strides, but it’s really more about thinking about the things we’ve yet to get into.”

The company is currently researching economical solutions for cost-effective irrigation runoff treatment and recycling, as well as methods for the oil and gas industry’s frack water treatment. PACE Advanced Water Engineering Inc. continues to generate forward-thinking solutions that partner science with nature and protect one of the Earth’s most valuable resources: water.

Published on: April 29, 2013

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