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Soils training gets down in the mud at salt pond

Published March 22, 2013
Jacob Berkowitz, a research soils scientist at the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., describes the process for evaluating soils during a March 20, 2013 training site visit to Pond 20, a former salt mining area, in San Diego Bay.

Jacob Berkowitz, a research soils scientist at the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., describes the process for evaluating soils during a March 20, 2013 training site visit to Pond 20, a former salt mining area, in San Diego Bay.

Jacob Berkowitz (wearing vest), a research soils scientist at the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., conducts a "bounce test" of soil during a March 20, 2013, training site visit with (left to right) Daniel Orr, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Robert Smith and Antal Szijj, of the Corps' Los Angeles District.

Jacob Berkowitz (wearing vest), a research soils scientist at the Corps' Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss., conducts a "bounce test" of soil during a March 20, 2013, training site visit with (left to right) Daniel Orr, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, Robert Smith and Antal Szijj, of the Corps' Los Angeles District.

Sophia Huynh and Roberta Morganstern, from the Corps' Los Angeles and San Francisco districts, respectively, and Monica Gibson, from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (left to right) examine soil from a dig pit during a March 20, 2013, training session at a former salt mining pond at San Diego Bay.

Sophia Huynh and Roberta Morganstern, from the Corps' Los Angeles and San Francisco districts, respectively, and Monica Gibson, from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, (left to right) examine soil from a dig pit during a March 20, 2013, training session at a former salt mining pond at San Diego Bay.

CARLSBAD, Calif. – Never ones to be chained to their desks, 20 regulators and biologists left the comfort and safety of their offices March 20 to slosh through mud and muck in their search for hydric soils at a former salt mining pond in San Diego Bay.

The trek into the field was part of a four-day training course for the scientists conducted by Jacob Berkowitz, a research soils engineer from the Corps’ Engineer Research and Development Center in Vicksburg, Miss.

“Regulators consider three parameters when determining the presence of wetlands: hydrology, where the water comes from and goes; vegetation, whether it’s hydrophytic, or water oriented; and soil type,” said Therese Bradford, chief the Los Angeles District’s South Coast Branch in Regulatory Division. “Identifying hydric soils is a critical part of delineating wetlands, and the class focused on increasing knowledge of soil science.”

Bradford said that while most regulators have a strong scientific background, soils training may not necessarily be included in that list.

“We have botany or biology backgrounds,” she said. “Very few people have even one soils class in college.”

Berkowitz said the technical training for hydric soils and wetland identification is funded by ERDC and Corps Headquarters through the Wetlands and Regulatory Assistance Program, which provides support to regulatory staffs to ensure they have the technical expertise to identify wetlands in the field.

“We need to develop technical subject matter experts, because this is a key portion of the regulatory process, to identify where wetlands exist and what the boundaries of wetlands are,” Berkowitz said.