It was a late February evening when a crane overturned while traveling down N.C. Highway 55. Diesel fuel leaked from the ruptured tank and spilled down the storm drain. This was when the Engineering Department of the Town of Holly Springs was called to assess the extent of damage to the stream where the storm drain flowed.
Holly Springs is a town in the southwest corner of Wake County, NC. More than doubling in population in the span of 2000 to 2010, it is one of the fastest growing towns in the state. My internship lies in the Department of Engineering, and is called “Stormwater Inspection/Mapping Intern”. The responsibilities include: performing dry weather inspections of stormwater outfalls, recording stormwater conveyances flow path, and illicit discharge hotspots using GPS, and maintaining and updating Holly Springs stormwater infrastructure map using GIS.
I spent most of my time mapping stormwater flow paths using a GPS unit. Mapping stormwater flow is an important part in the prevention of ecological issues. By knowing where stormwater flows from various locations, you can respond more quickly to chemical spills such as the diesel spill in February. The mapping process began by driving to previously unmapped areas within town limits. Taking points along the flow paths typically involved sticking to the side of paved roads, but occasionally I would have to plot streams if they were directly involved in the areas stormwater system. Luckily most of these streams were ephemeral, meaning they only had flowing water during or following steady rainfall. While mapping stormwater systems, I also had to take note of flow paths. In most cases this could be determined simply by looking at the topography or topographical maps of the area; however, underground stormwater pipes could sometimes be constructed at a downward angle opposing the surface, causing the water to appear to flow uphill. In such a case I would confer with my supervisor to ensure that the flow path was correct.
I was tasked with determining a viable method of delineating stormwater flow direction on the town’s stormwater map after completing the plotting of the areas. This has been difficult as I have to take into account multiple factors (legibility at any scale and clarity of information) so that the map is easily read and understood. After a few days of tinkering with design ideas, I chose to use arrows dispersed intermediately among the flow lines. These arrows follow the direction that the stormwater flows. This was made even more difficult considering I was limited to a lesser version of ArcMap (GIS mapping software) which lacked access to certain tools and features.
I also spent a large portion of my time doing erosion control inspections on construction sites with my supervisor. This type of inspection is frequent due to the constant growth of Holly Springs. Erosion control inspections are performed in order to ensure that construction sites do not lose too much sediment during the grading and building process. We made sure that all codes were followed and necessary precautions taken, such as silt fence usage and ground stabilization. If not, the site would fail and the company ordered to fix the issue before further construction could take place. We also performed a final inspection before the site was closed.
The part of the internship that I enjoyed the most was erosion control inspections. They required quick analysis of sites as well as solving multiple issues within the same day. While I enjoyed almost every part of the internship, this facet felt the most productive. This directly opposes the updating of the town’s stormwater map which was a very slow and arduous process, but ultimately necessary. The only problem I had with the internship was its dependence on decent weather. On days of heavy rain or freezing temperatures, I was confined to the office completing tasks such as hanging construction plans and data entry. These are issues that I would have to face in future careers in almost any environmental field. The tasks I did indoors were absolutely necessary to the town, and all real world jobs possess a portion of tedious labor. However, it was not ideal while trying to get valuable experience towards a career in the environmental field.
Despite occasional slow days, this internship was definitely a positive experience. Working with GIS is beneficial to almost any environmental position. Being proficient allows you to work more efficiently and present information in a more visual manner. My future career will also benefit from the work in erosion control and stormwater. As water is the most crucial component to life, the practice in its behavior and properties will be applicable to any field as well. The actual job experience my internship provided was not attainable through university classes. Besides experience, I also gained valuable contacts which could help me secure a position with another company in the future and demonstrate to me the value of communication in the workplace as well as with customers or clients. Finally, I always have room to improve in all aspects of my field.