Category Archives: Civil Engineering

The Rain is Upon Us

download (1)

We can all be prepared to lessen the danger and damage of potential flash floods, debris flows and mudslides as we have seen occur in Southern California.

Many of our local, state, federal agencies along with non-profits have been hard at work to protect our watershed and working hard to prevent floods, mudslides, and debris flow here in Santa Rosa and the entire County.  As we have all witnessed these preventative steps have helped greatly.

The fires scarred our landscape creating a waxy coating leaving the ground more vulnerable to erosion due to the fact that the burnt upper layers of soil repel water, which accumulates rapidly and flows with a strong intensity lending itself to picking up sediment, boulders, trees and other debris that creates a bigger punch than just mud.  These potential hazards will stick around for a few years.  With this in mind, along with the preventative steps being taken, residents need to implement erosion-control measures on their property.

A professional can assist you in assessing your property and what needs to be done.  Cleaning your property of burnt trees,  plants and other matter may not be a good solution because some of this debris may act as protection from wind and water erosion and slows the water runoff.  However, clearing debris from nearby streams, storm drains and drainages is necessary to keep these channels clear.


It’s important to hire and/or consult with a licensed civil engineer with erosion and sediment control experience along with design, installation and maintenance experience.

A long-term maintenance plan is needed.  One of the main reasons recommended treatment practices fail is the lack of long-term maintenance by the landowner or responsible party.

To stay up to date click here,

Sign up for SoCo Alerts by clicking here,




Post Fire – Soil Erosion


It’s a difficult time, we are still in shock, sad and grief stricken  for the lives lost and the property lost, but we are #SONOMASTRONG; #NAPASTRONG and look forward to rebuilding.  As hard as it seems right now, we need to think about preserving our land and preventing further damage due to soil erosion.

After a severe fire, the likelihood of soil erosion, causing mudslides, flooding and pollution increases upwards of 200%.  The fires burn and destroy plant material and the litter layer.  Under normal conditions shrubs, grasses, trees and the litter layer break up the intensity of severe rainstorms.  Their roots stabilize the soil and stems and leaves slow the flow of water to give it time to penetrate the ground, preventing too much runoff.    In some instances, the fire creates a gas that penetrates the soil profile.  As the soil cools, this gas condenses and forms a waxy coating (hydrophobicity) which repels water and increases the rate of water runoff.   This all leads to a dangerous situation, the runoff and debris will become too much for our stormwater drainage systems, which will lead to erosion elsewhere.  Also, debris and the fast-moving water can cause mudslides,  flood homes, businesses and neighborhoods, pollute our waterways  and are a threat to our personal being; wreaking continued havoc in our community.

It is important we begin the  work now to prevent any  further damage to our city – our home.  First and foremost, we need to come up with a restoration plan. This plan will have several focal points, including inspecting our drainage systems, cleaning our gutters, culverts, detention  basins, small streams and concrete waterways.   Our driveways, roadways, sidewalks and parking lots are often designed to sheet their runoff to the landscape, but now we must divert that runoff toward our storm drain systems and away from erosion  prone areas.  Minimizing traffic and proper watering will also help.  Installing more culverts than previously existed might be necessary.  A professional engineer can determine the size of the drainage area and the amount of runoff for the projected rainfall.

Reseeding grass and wildflowers in the severely burned areas will be carefully planned.  Santa Rosa is home to 220 native plants, grasses, shrubs and trees.  Which include black and valley oak trees, California grape and silver lupine shrubs, purple needle grass groundcover.  After reseeding, covering the seeded area with straw is important for creating an environment for seed germination.

To read more about preventing erosion, click here.  Also, Balance Hydrologics is a consulting firm committed to resolving clients environmental challenges using site-specific information and offers post-fire services.  Visit their website by clicking here.






Stormwater Runoff


It’s that time of the year again…

Time to get ready for heavy rains and do our part to improve runoff that would otherwise flow into and pollute our waterways and cause erosion headaches.

Stormwater that flows down driveways, streets and outside areas goes into a storm drain which flows directly to the nearest creek, fish and wildlife habitats, recreational bodies of water and drinking supplies.  This water does not get treated and is polluted with many pollutants like motor oil, fertilizers, soapy car wash water, sediment from projects, litter and too many other pollutants.

With our creeks and waterways in mind, rain gardens are a natural and beautiful solution to reducing polluted runoff and helps in preventing erosion.  They function to help slow down, soak up and filter polluted runoff from downspouts, driveways and other hard surfaces.

To  start, directing rainwater from your roof to the rain garden is a feature designed to absorb more rainfall before it runs off your property while at the same time  reduces the amount and speed of runoff which helps with the prevention of erosion.  Next, plantingdudleya_beargrass native plants which adapt to local conditions and have extensive root systems making them more tolerant of the amount of water that comes in.  The deep root system encourages infiltration and helps absorb nutrients.  Then creating a berm, which holds water during heavy rains and redirects the water flow to your rain garden, preventing drainage issues elsewhere.

Rain gardens are easily maintained  and benefit both people and the natural environment.

Our talented Landscape Designers and Civil Engineers can help design the perfect rain garden and analyze your grading and drainage plans for your yard or business.  You can contact them at (707) 792-1800.

Tips for Healthy Waterways


With the rain comes water, polluted water, which flows into our rivers, creeks and streams. As a community we must be proactive in preventing the pollution of our waterways.

Here are 5 tips to help prevent this pollution and maintain our waterways health.

1. Check your car for leaks. Fluids that leak from vehicles can be carried by storm water runoff all the way to our creeks! Look at your pavement and driveway after you move your car. If you see a dark patch or see a colorful sheen on the surface, you may have a leak. It is important to clean up all leaks promptly because they could be toxic to pets and wildlife. Do not hose leaked fluids into the street! Use oil absorbent or cat litter to clean up the spill. If possible, take your vehicle to a mechanic to have the leak repaired.

2. Keep leaves out of the street. Most jurisdictions in the Russian River watershed prohibit raking leaves and other debris onto the street. Why? Anything on our streets can be carried by storm water runoff directly into our creeks, and too many leaves can obstruct the habitat and natural flow of a creek. Since storm water is not cleaned or treated before it reaches the creek, please help keep our waterways clean by either placing your leaves into the yard waste bin or consider mulching the ground with them, which will help feed the soil for a healthier yard. If you see leaves next to your curb, sweep them out of the street to prevent them from washing to the creek.

3. Rethink holiday cooking cleanup. After cooking, when fats, oils, and grease cool, they solidify. If you pour them down your sink drain, they will harden in your pipes and may block the flow of sewage away your home! The best way to deal with fats, oils, and grease from cooking waste is to let them cool then scrape or them into the trash. Or, if you have a large amount of cooking oil, consider recycling it with the Mendocino County HazMobile Program. Sonoma County residents can view recycling drop-off locations at

4. Correctly dispose of batteries. In California, all electronics and batteries have been banned from landfill disposal. In Mendocino County, household batteries and other household hazardous waste can be disposed through the Hazmobile Program. In Sonoma County, electronics can be donated to the Computer Recycling Center,, for repair and reuse. For a complete list of drop-off recycling options, visit

5. Dispose of Christmas trees responsibly. If you get a Christmas tree this year, consider what you will do with it after the holidays. Plastic trees and trees with flocking must be disposed of in a landfill, but plain natural Christmas trees can be mulched and recycled. Whole trees can be dropped off at Holiday Tree Drop Off Locations, or, in some areas, picked up with your curbside recycling. You can also cut up your tree so it fits in your yard waste container – just make sure the tree is cut up so that the lid on the green bin closes completely.

For any questions about recycling and year‐round disposal options:

In Sonoma County, visit, call the Sonoma County Eco‐Desk at 565‐DESK (3375).

Here at Firma Design Group our Civil Engineers are committed to doing their part in preventing this pollution by integrating treatment and management of storm water run off in our built up environment. Contact one of our Civil Engineers at (707) 792-1800.

The Civil Engineer’s Contribution to LEED Certification


Liane Ware, Firma Design Group, November 15, 2016

How does a civil engineering LEED AP (with or without a specialty credential) benefit a project?

While their knowledge and input pertains to a handful of Sustainable Sites prerequisites and credits, civil engineers’ usual involvement in project certification is focused on storm water management. The new Sustainable Sites Credit for Rainwater Management allots different levels of development mitigation, but the credit requirements are no more unique than learning and applying local and regional requirements (such as those in California). Design teams rely on civil engineering professionals to keep up to date with the evolving stormwater management and mitigation measures required for project permitting. Now that it’s less common for civil engineers to work only locally, much of their due diligence effort is in determining stormwater regulations for each project and how they will apply in the design. Understanding the nuances of each different agency encompasses LEED as well, which is why a civil engineering LEED AP is more than qualified to efficiently address the different degrees of the Rainwater Management credit. The language of almost all agencies having jurisdiction is comparable with varying levels and applications, and LEED is keeping pace:

“’Rainwater’ is now seen as a resource that provides many environmental and economic benefits. Managing rainwater on site restores natural hydrologic conditions, reduces the possibility of flooding, and creates opportunities for onsite water reuse in applications like irrigation and landscape features.”

The right civil engineer on a design team can therefore bring his or her expertise to the table in arriving at a creative, integrated storm water management solution for both project permitting and LEED certification.


Welcoming Liane Ware

Welcoming Liane Ware:

Was there anything specific that led you into engineering?
• I always really enjoyed physics, algebra, and geometry in grade school, and I loved building things (woodworking projects) with my family. There was also a big push to involve more girls and women in the field, and I fit right in line with that effort. After evolving from a structural focus to one in civil and land development, I’ve come to appreciate how fulfilling designing the built environment is while protecting the natural environment with sustainable, low-impact development.

How long have you been in engineering?
• Technically, since my sophomore year in college, but professionally since 2005.

Where did you start off?
• My first civil engineering position was at a company in Tampa, FL, where I had my introduction to roadway and drainage design. I worked part-time while finishing my degree, and stayed on after graduation until relocating to the SF Bay area in 2006. Now I’ve worked from South Bay through the Peninsula and City to North Bay and on a wide variety of public and private re/development projects from SoCal to the state capital to wine county and in between.

Where did you go to school?
• In 2003, I graduated with my AS in Civil Engineering Technology from Wentworth Institute of Technology in Boston. I then transferred to and graduated in 2005 with my BS in Civil Engineering from the University of South Florida in Tampa.

Outside of work, what do you enjoy?
• Camping is my favorite activity when not working, both over-packed with the car in Big Basin and backpacking Yosemite’s high country. I’m also one of those cyclists out on the road in my own imaginary race, though fully obeying traffic laws while dodging close-encounters of the motorized kind. I’m a lover of all wines and animals, of which I have many, but I also enjoy whiskey tastings and catch-and-release fishing. Plus, you’ll find a smile on my face while I’m doing just about anything outdoors…hiking, chopping firewood, floating down the river, gardening and yardwork, walking the dog, playing on the beach, reading, cross-country skiing, and inadvertently scaring away the wildlife with my attempts at playing guitar (and worse, singing along)…

Liane can be reached at:

Stormwater Management


In an effort to curb stormwater from polluting our waterways and posing risks of landslides and erosion which wreak havoc on our property and is harmful to all of us, California’s State Water Board adopted a Stormwater Strategy to manage and protect surface and ground water resources in a sustainable manner for future generations.

With the right planning to capture it, local communities can improve local flood control, water quality and water supply, including groundwater recharge. Here at Firma Design Group our engineers are well versed on the State and County’s Regulations and California’s Stormwater Strategy, give us a call at (707) 792-1800.

To read more on our State Water Board’s Stormwater Strategy, click here, click here

Stormwater Regulations


We must all be conscience of the impact stormwater has on our environment due to its potential to pollute our soil, streams, rivers and other bodies along with the potential for flooding and erosion.

As of January 6, 2016, Sonoma County is required to enforce new stormwater requirements that were adopted by the North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board on October 8, 2015. Unless an exception is granted no grading on slopes greater than 10% between October 1st and April 30th.

Stormwater naturally reaches our creeks in two ways either on the surface or underground (subsurface). Water on the surface travels faster than underground. The faster the water gets to the creeks the greater the potential for flooding and erosion. Better for all of us.

We here, at Firma Design Group, have the Civil Engineering know how to prepare your property for the upcoming rainy season. Give us a call at (707) 792-1800. To read more on Stormwater requirements in Sonoma County, click here.

A Vision Alive Today


Vera Schultz – a woman ahead of her time earned the title of “First Lady of Marin”. Vera not only was the first female member of the Marin County Board of Supervisors, she was a true pioneer for women’s rights in Marin and a trailblazer in the fields of urban planning and environmentally sensitive design. Vera established Marin County’s Parks and Recreation Department, as well as, the Public Works Department. So when it came to having enthusiasm for Frank Lloyd Wright’s radically modern design vision for the Marin County Civic Center she stood her ground in the 4 year “battle royal”. And today the Marin County Civic Center is considered one of the finest public buildings in the United States.

In 2015, Firma Design Group was retained by Marin County’s Parks Department to develop a Landscape Master Plan, coherent of the initial vision of Frank Lloyd Wright and Vera Schultz, of fitting into the natural environment. With as much enthusiasm as Schultz and Wright, Firma Design developed a master plant palette and micro-climate palettes with special plants that can thrive in Marin County. Firma Design Group is working further on developing the overall Landscape Master Plan for implementation in the coming year. We were also contracted to map and assess the existing irrigation system and landscape plantings which along with the proper plant species have increased the system’s efficiency. To read more on our state of the art GIS mapping, click here.
To read the MARIN September 2016 article,click here.

Keeping up with Water Awareness!



May was Water Awareness month and to keep up with the ongoing awareness of conserving water in June, we are highlighting some key points as a reminder and update.

The Press Democrats Tuesday, May 10, 2016 issue under the front page header “State weighs easing drought cuts” talks about how the days of when residents were legally able to hose down driveways or have lawn sprinklers running on rainy days, are over. This article highlights some of the specifics as to how these drought cuts will affect Californians on pages A1 continued on page A2. Governor Jerry Brown also comments on the executive order issued permanently banning water-wasting practices. Brown said, “We know that drought is becoming a regular occurrence and water conservation must be a part of our everyday life.”

The State of California Office of Administrative Law stated, “This emergency regulatory action is effective on 5/31/2016 and will expire on 2/28/2017. The Certificate of Compliance for this action is due no later than 2/27/2017. To prevent the waste and unreasonable use of water and to promote water conservation, each of the following actions is prohibited, except where necessary to address an immediate health and safety need or to comply with a term or condition in a permit issued by a state or federal agency:

(1) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes in a manner that causes runoff such that water flows onto adjacent property, non-irrigated areas, private and public walkways, roadways, parking lots,. or structures; (2) The use of a hose that dispenses potable water to wash a motor vehicle, except where the hose is fitted with a shut-off nozzle or device attached to it that causes it to cease dispensing water immediately when not in use; (3) The application of potable water to driveways and sidewalks; (4) The use of potable water in a fountain or other decorative water feature, except where the water is part of a recirculating system; (5) The application of potable water to outdoor landscapes during and within 48 hours after measurable rainfall; (6) The serving of drinking water other than upon request in eating or drinking establishments, including but not limited to restaurants, hotels, cafes, cafeterias, bars, or other public places where food or drink are served. and/or purchased; (7) The irrigation with potable water of ornamental turf on public street medians; and (8) The irrigation with potable water of landscapes outside of newly constructed homes and buildings in a manner inconsistent with regulations or other requirements established by the California Building Standards Commission and the Department of Housing and Community Development. (b) To promote water conservation, operators of hotels and motels shall provide guests with the option of choosing not to have towels and linens laundered daily. The hotel or motel shall prominently. Display notice of this option in each guestroom using clear and easily understood language. (c) Upon on this subdivision taking effect, all commercial, industrial and institutional properties that use a water supply, any portion of which is from a source other than a water supplier subject to section 864.5 or 865.of this article, shall either: (1) Limit outdoor irrigation of ornamental landscapes or turf with potable water to no more than two days per week; or (2) Target potable water use reductions commensurate with those required of the nearest urban water supplier under section 864.5 or, if applicable, section 865. Where this option is chosen, these properties shall implement the reductions on or before July 1, 2016. (d) The taking of any action prohibited in subdivision (a) or (e), or the failure to take any action required in subdivision (b) or (c), is an infraction punishable by a fine of up to five hundred dollars ($500) for each day in which the violation occurs. The fine for the infraction is in addition to, and does not supersede or limit, any other remedies, civil or criminal.”

RESERVOIR LEVELS: As of May 16th, reservoir storage in Lake Sonoma is 99% of capacity and Lake Mendocino is 98% of target water supply storage.
RAINFALL: Rainfall this year to date (October 1, 2015-May 15, 2016) is 32 inches.
Current water supply levels can be found on the Sonoma County Water Agency’s website.

Irrigation Tips

Water Smart Irrigation Tips

Santa Rosa Water offers free watering and irrigation tips each week. Recommendations are based on data from local weather stations.



Sonoma County Water Agency:

City of Santa Rosa:

California State Water Resources Control Board: