Soil Testing Companies Background on soil testing companies



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F. Beach Leighton served as the first ad hoc county geologist for San Mateo County, after his firm studied the landslide and coastal retreat problems in Seal Cove, on the coast a few miles north of Half Moon Bay. This report was completed in October 1971and Leighton provided peer review of geotechnical reports associated with building permits in Seal Cove until 1975, when San Mateo County hired Albert C. Neufeld, CEG as their full-time County Planning Geologist (John C. Tinsley’s MS thesis at Stanford, titled “Sea cliff erosion as a measure of coastal degredation, San Mateo County, California” assessed many of the same issues).

In 1966 the Santa Clara County Water District established a geologist position, which was filled by Jeremy C. Wire, CEG (BA Geol ’58 Pomona; MA ’61 UCLA), who came from the Corps of Engineers in Vicksburg. He remained in this position until 1969. In the 1970s Santa Clara County was reorganized to include an Environmental Resources Agency, and the County Geologist position was designated by the County’s Planning Director. For several decades that individual was James O. Berkland, CEG (BA Geol ’58 Berkeley), assisted by Pete Anderson, CEG (in the late 1970s). Berkland incurred the ire of his supervisors and was suspended several times because of his passion for predicting earthquakes using non-traditional means, which often appeared in Bay Area newspapers and were critiqued by USGS scientists and academics. In January 2006, a book about Jim Berkland was published, The Man Who Predicts Earthquakes: Jim Berkland, Maverick Geologist--How His Quake Warnings Can Save Lives (by Cal Orey and published by Sentient Publications). In the late 1980s-early 1990s Frederick W. “Rick” Haltenhoff, CEG served as the part-time County Geologist, a period that straddled the October 1989 Loma Prieta Earthquake. In May 1994 Jim Baker, CEG (BS Geol ’71; MS ’76 Stanford) became the Santa Clara County Geologist with the Planning Department, and he began compiling a credible record of the county’s geohazards, noting where and how they have historically mitigated such hazards.

The City of San Jose Public Works Department also employs a ‘City Geologist.’ Trish Gomes, CEG held that position in the mid-1980s, then it was passed to Bill Wahler GE, CEG between 1984-88. Mike Shimamoto, CEG (BA Geol ’74, MS ’76 Humboldt State) took over the reins in the late 1980s and has held the position ever since.

In the early 1970s Alameda County established a geologist position. For many years this was David W. Carpenter, CEG (who previously worked for USBR in Sacramento). He retired around 1985-86 and provided part-time review services for a number of cities in Alameda County, including Pleasanton. His successor was Ed Danehy (from Wahler Associates). Since 1995 Cal Engineering & Geology has performed geologic peer review services for Alameda County, using Mitch Wolfe, CEG (formerly of Seidelman Assoc and Rogers/Pacific).



Contra Costa County enacted legislation establishing an excavation and grading ordinance in 1960, modeled on that adopted by Los Angeles County. Their first grading inspectors were Alan L. Stanley (who joined Purcell-Rhoades in 1971), James A. Searfus, and Gordon Whisler, who remained in his position for over 31 years. John M. Halliday (BS Geol ’79 SJSU) was the County’s chief grading inspector from 1999 until work fell off, around 2009. Contra Costa County established a planning geologist position, around 1975. The first Contra Costa County Geologist was W. Darwin Myers, PhD, CEG (1975-79), working for Community Planning. He was succeeded by Jim Baker, CEG from 1979-81, and then by W. Todd Nelson, CEG, between 1982-90. After Nelson retired, Darwin Myers took over his old position as an independent contractor, beginning around 1995. Over the years Darwin Myers also provided engineering geologic review on contract for many other cities in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.

Between 1984-97 Rogers/Pacific provided peer review for San Ramon, Danville, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Orinda, Moraga, Lafayette, Pleasanton, Berkeley, Vallejo, and Contra Costa County. J. David Rogers, PhD, CEG, CHG of Geolith Consultants continued this role for Pleasant Hill, Fremont, and Orinda, between 1997-2001.

From approximately 1974 and 1991 Dr. Gerry Weber, CEG of Weber-Hayes & Associates served as the contract Santa Cruz “County Geologist,” working for the County Planning Department. Weber’s responsibilities included working with Planning Department staff and Dr. Gary Griggs, CEG of the UCSC Earth Sciences Department on the development of County Guidelines for the Preparation of Geologic Reports, and reviewing geologic reports prepared by local consultants (including field review). In the late 1980s-early 1990s Paia Levine, PG served as the “county planning geologist” in the planning department until a complaint was filed with the BRGG in the spring of 1991, about her not being a registered geologist (she became registered in 1995). In July 1991 Joe Hanna, CEG (BA Geol ’78 UCSB) became the Santa Cruz County Geologist, after working in similar capacities for the Ventura County Public Works Department (from 1979-91).

Gerry Weber also served as the "Review Geologist" for the San Benito County Planning Department, the City of San Juan Bautista, the City of Del Rey Oaks, and San Luis Obispo County. The person who reviewed geology reports in Solano County in the late 1970s was John Blacklock (though not registered). Misty Kaltreider was the Geologist for the Solano County Departmental of Environmental Management.

Notable Legislation and Associations that influenced development of the Geotechnical Standard of Practice

(which included Bay Area engineers and geologists)


U.S. Coast Survey Maps of San Francisco Bay Area (1852 onward)

The U.S. Coast Survey (USCS) was the companion agency to the U.S. Surveyor General’s Office, who mapped the interior. USCS began mapping the Pacific Coast in 1848-49, establishing an office in San Francisco in May 1849. In 1852 County Surveyor Clement Humphreys prepared the first detailed map of the San Francisco Peninsula, extending just south of Point San Bruno, in vicinity of what is now the airport. This map was periodically updated as the City expanded, beginning in 1861.

A.F. Rodgers of the Coast Survey prepared a detailed topographic map of San Francisco extending several miles inland, using a contour interval of 20 feet. This was published by the Coast Survey in 1853. Original copies of the 1853 map are held by the USGS, San Francisco Public Library, Bancroft Library, and the Earth Sciences & Map Library at U.C. Berkeley.

The area of the 1853 Coast Survey map was subsequently expanded upon in 1857 and 1869. The 1869 topographic map covers the San Francisco Peninsula as far south as Millbrae and Point San Pedro. It was prepared at a scale of 1:10,000 with contour interval of 20 feet. The map has been reprinted by NOAA (Map BiC-32) at a reduced scale of 1:40,000, beginning in 1969. The Coast Survey completed a 1:10,000 scale map of the San Antonio Estuary in Oakland and Alameda in 1860. They went onto compile a series of harbor and bay maps up through the 1890s. These maps are extremely rare, but are the most reliable source of pre-development information in known wetlands and slough areas, such as the Oakland-Alameda Estuary or San Francisco waterfront.


Establishment of State Geological Survey (1860)

In April 1860 the State Legislature passed an act creating a State Geological Survey and the Office of the State Geologist, naming Josiah Dwight Whitney as the first state geologist. Whitney endeavored to construct an accurate and complete survey of the State’s geologic resources, a Herculean task which occupied the succeeding five years. In 1865 Whitney published a 97-page account (Geology of California, v. 1, part 1, Geology of the Coast Ranges: Geological Survey of California) that included initial descriptions of the formations surrounding Mt. Diablo.

The State Mining Bureau was created by legislation in 1880 absorbed the Old State Geological Survey. This was, in turn, succeeded by the Division of Mines and Mining, headed by a State Mineralogist, and contained within the Department of Natural Resources, with headquarters in the San Francisco Ferry Building. A Petroleum Department was established in 1915, which eventually became the Division of Oil & Gas. In October 1961 the agency’s name was changed to the Division of Mines & Geology in a reorganization of the newly created Department of Conservation. A brief history of the agency is contained in the December 1961 issue of Mineral Information Service (v. 14:12), the precursor publication of California Geology. The agency moved its headquarters from the Ferry Building in San Francisco to Sacramento in 1970. The agency’s name was changed to the California Geological Survey (CGS) in 2002.
First Seismographic Stations in the Americas (1887)

In 1887 the University of California (Berkeley) established the first seismographic stations in the Americas, one at Berkeley and the other at Lick Observatory, in the hills east of San Jose. The operation and upkeep of both seismographs was under the direction of the Lick Observatory’s Director E.S. Holden. The university’s first course in seismology was not offered until 1912, by Elmer F. Davis, a student of Prof Andrew Lawson. Davis supervised the operation of the seismic arrays until he was relieved by Father James B. Macelwane in 1921 (Macelwane was also a student of Prof. Lawson and went onto establish the seismology program at St. Louis University). In 1925 Professor Lawson asked Perry Byerly, a recent graduate in physics at Berkeley, to succeed Macelwane in directing the two seismograph stations. Byerly was appointed Assistant Professor of Seismology in 1927, and continued supervising the seismology program at Berkeley until his retirement in 1960, when they were operating 16 stations across northern California.



USGS 15-minute quadrangles (1893-1944)

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began systematic topographic mapping of northern California in the mid-1890s, using plane tables. The scales were between 1:62,500 (about an inch to the mile) and 1:125,000 (about 2 inches to a mile). 15-minute series quadrangles were published of inhabited areas, such as the coastal plains, while 30-minute maps covered less-populated areas, such as the Sacramento Valley and Delta, and mountainous terrain within the Coast Ranges.

The 15-minute series maps were released between 1893 and 1944. Most of these show the original position of water courses and wetlands around the turn of the Century, and as urban areas developed, new editions were published, between 1916 and 1944. The last series of 15-minute quads were produced during the Second World War (1941-45), and omit details within military reservations, such as Alameda Naval Air Station and the Oakland Army Base. These maps were also replicated as base maps for other products, such as mining, soil science, and water resources studies.
Bureau of Public Roads (1893-1919)

The U.S. Office of Road Inquiry was established with the Department of Agriculture in October 1893, naming General Roy Stone as its first Special Agent and Engineer. The first ‘object lesson highway’ demonstration project was constructed in New Jersey in 1897. In 1903 Congress tripled the agency’s budget, changing its name to the Office of Public Roads Inquiries and appointing Martin Dodge as the new Director. He divided the USA into four geographic divisions with a special agent in charge of each. In 1905 the agency was enlarged 67% and renamed the U.S. Office of Public Roads, with Logan W. Page as its new director. Under Page’s leadership a Division of Highway Bridges & Culverts was formed in 1910, the American Association of State Highway Officials (now AASHTO) was established in 1914. In 1915 the agency’s name became the U.S. Bureau of Public Roads, followed shortly thereafter by passage of the Federal-Aid Road Act of 1916, establishing the financing of highways, using 50% federal and 50% state funds. In 1918 the agency established the Bureau of Public Roads Experimental Farm in Arlington, VA to measure impact forces of various wheel loads. The agency began published the journal Public Roads in May 1918. When Page retired in 1919 he was replaced by Thomas H. McDonald, a legendary figure who led the agency for the next 34 years, until 1953. From the late 1920s onward the importance of soil mechanics theory to pavement design and construction became increasingly appreciated, and most of the pre-1940 research in soil mechanics was geared towards improving pavement design.

In 1939 the agency was renamed the U.S. Public Roads Administration, and placed under the Federal Works Agency. When that agency was shut down in 1949, its name reverted to the Bureau of Public Roads and it was placed within the Department of Commerce. This was superseded by the establishment of the Federal Highway Administration and the new Department of Transportation in October 1966, which became operational in April 1967.
Bureau of Soils (1901)

In 1894 the Division of Agricultural Soils was created in the Weather Bureau of the Department of Agriculture. With the inception of National Cooperative Soil Survey efforts, in 1899 the name changed to the Division of Soils, with a marked increase in funding. The first four surveys focused on portions of Maryland, Connecticut, the Salt Lake Valley of Utah, and the Pecos River Valley of New Mexico. These early efforts were focused on geology/geography and chemistry, with little or no input from agronomists.

In 1901 the Bureau of Soils was established with the USDA. In that era soil texture was the principal soil characteristic described in maps and reports, but soil series were soon established as groupings of distinctive soil types. Other characteristics, such as soil color, organic content, soil structure, drainage, erodibility, and nature of subsoil were gradually added to studies over the following decades. Some of these included soil provinces with their respective soil series where dominant depositional provinces were recognized, such as glacial, aeolian, alluvial etc. Whenever USGS topographic sheets were available soil maps were overlain on these. Most of these early surveys were published at a scale Work for soil surveys was done at a mapping scale 1 inch to the mile. In other cases early soil surveys were made using plane table and alidade surveys to develop their own base maps. Gradually the scale increased until, by 1960, it was pretty well standardized at 1:12000 or 1:24000, depending on the area.

In the San Francisco Bay-Delta area, soil surveys commenced around 1908. Some of the earliest soil maps include: H.L. Westover and C. Van Duyne, 1912, Soil Survey of the Livermore Area, California: U.S. Dept. Agriculture Bureau of Soils Field Operations 1910, Report 12, p. 1657-1716. Larger tracts of land were subsequently reported upon, such as L.C. Holmes and J.W. Nelson, 1919, Reconnaissance Soil Survey of the San Francisco Bay Region, California: U.S. Dept. Agriculture, Bureau of Soils, Field Operation 1914, Report 16, p. 2679-2784. Similar reports were prepared for the Sacramento Valley (1916) and Lower San Joaquin Valley (1919). Up through the 1920s these soil surveys were contained in massive annual reports produced by Bureau of Soils. These activities were subsequently absorbed into the Soil Conservation Service, beginning in 1933 (see write-up, below).


Seismological Society of America (1907)

The Seismological Society of America (SSA) was formed in California in the aftermath of the San Francisco earthquake of April 1906. San Francisco civil engineer William R. Eckert suggested to his friend Alexander G. McAdie that they should form a society “to promote research in seismology, the scientific investigation of earthquakes, and related phenomenon.” Thirteen individuals attended the first organizational meeting on August 30, 1906 in San Francisco.

Six of the core group were six professors at the University of California, Berkeley: George Davidson was Professor Emeritus of Geography; Charles Derleth was Professor of Structural Engineering; Andrew Lawson was Head of the Department of Geology. Joseph N. LeConte was Professor of Mechanical Engineering, A. O. Leuchner of Astronomy, and George Louderback of Geology and Mining. SSA was unique in that it was the first scientific society that included both scientists and engineers, working together towards common interests and practical goals.

The stalwarts of the early years were Stanford Professors Bailey Willis and S. D. Townley, along with noted consulting engineers John R. Freeman of Boston, Professor Romeo R. Martel of Caltech, and San Francisco consulting engineers Henry D. Dewell (BSCE 1906 Berkeley) and Walter L. Huber (BSCE 1905 Berkeley). Willis and Dewell were tireless in their efforts to promote the adoption of seismic building codes in California. This effort met with modest success following the June 1925 Santa Barbara Earthquake, and with overwhelming success in the wake of the March 1933 Long Beach Earthquake. By the late 1920s the society numbered over 800 members and today numbers approximately 2,000 members.



First use of the term “geotechnical” (1913)

In 1913 a “Geotechnical Commission of the Swedish State Railways” was appointed, chaired by Wolmar Fellenius, a professor of civil engineering at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm. That commission studied a number of slope stability and bulkhead failures that had impacted the Swedish Railway system and issued a report in 1922 that was circulated in the United States, through ASCE’s Special Committee to Codify Present Practice on the Bearing Value of Soils for Foundations (reported on pages 715-16 of the December 1922 ASCE Proceedings). The term “geotechnical” was eventually adopted by soils and foundations engineers world-wide, to better describe the many faceted aspects of their profession, which involved soils, rock, water, and organic matter.



Dam Safety Acts of 1915 and 1917

In 1915 the California legislature passed its first dam safety legislation, which required all plans for dams and reservoirs to be submitted to the State Engineer for approval, but the act provided no penalty for failure to comply. In August 1916 the State Reclamation Board issued a report recommending that the State Engineer regulate all storage reservoirs. No further action was taken by the legislature until after January 1916 floods in Southern California. In 1917 a new dam safety act was enacted in the wake of public outcry following the failures of the Lower Otay and Sweetwater Dams in San Diego County during the floods of January 1916. The 1917 act granted the State Engineer authority over all dams > 10 feet high or which impound > 9 acre acre-ft (3 million gallons), with exception of: 1) dams for mining debris constructed by the California Debris Commission; 2) dams constructed by municipal corporations maintaining their own engineering departments (such as Los Angeles BWWS); and 3) dams and reservoirs that are part of water systems regulated by the State’s new Public Utilities Act.

That same year (1917) the State Railroad Commission was given authority over all dams owned by public utilities. The railroad commission exercised some oversight on 46 of 140 dams built in California between 1917-1929. Municipal water agencies, such as publicly-owned agencies and districts, were exempt from State overview (until the 1929 legislation). From 1917-29 the State Engineer was given authority to review plans for dams prepared by irrigation districts, private companies and individuals. In 1920 the Federal Power Commission began supervising dams for power projects involving the public domain.
ASCE Special Committee to Codify Present Practice on the Bearing Value of Soils for Foundations (1915-26)

In 1915 a Committee to Codify Present Practice on the Bearing Value of Soils for Foundations was formed by the American Society of Civil Engineers, chaired by Robert A. Cummings (1866-1962), Consulting Engineer from Pittsburgh, who founded the Cummings Structural Concrete Co. in 1884, and was an early proponent of reinforced concrete construction. Another member of the committee was famed sanitary engineer and hydrologist Allen Hazen (1869-1930). The committee solicited input from practitioners across the nation and published annual reports of up to 40 pages in length in the ASCE Proceedings between 1916-26 (Cummings served as a Director of ASCE from 1914-20 and as Vice President in 1920 and ’21). These empirical values became industry standards until the more rigorous methods of assessing bearing capacity of soils were developed by G.G. Myerhoff between 1950-55.


Board of Engineers for the Calaveras Dam (1917)

With a design height of 240 feet height and a volume of over three million cubic yards, the Calaveras Dam was intended to become the largest embankment dam in the world when it was designed in 1916. Construction began in January 1917, using hydraulic fill techniques.

In the spring of 1917 George A. Elliott, Engineer of the Spring Valley Water Company of San Francisco, prepared a report titled “Report on the Spillway for the Calaveras Reservoir, “ which was approved by William Mulholland, Chief Engineer of the Los Angeles Bureau of Waterworks & Supply, who served as a consulting engineer to the Spring Valley Water Co.

The company also appointed a board of engineers to advise them on the design of the proposed Calaveras Dam. The original board was comprised of Arthur Powell Davis, Director of the U.S. Reclamation Service (and General Manager & Chief Engineer of EBMUD from 1923 to 1932), and Professor Daniel W. Mead of the University of Wisconsin. They submitted a “Report on the Calaveras Dam and Spillway” dated July 6, 1917.


Coining of the term “liquefaction” (1918-21)

On Sunday morning March 24, 1918 approximately 800,000 yds3 of the upstream side of the Calaveras Dam took about five minutes to slide into the partially-filled reservoir (it contained about 55 ft of water), toppling the 230-ft high intake tower. The core pool had been placed to a height about 45 feet below the design crest of the dam at the time of the failure, with either shell about 10 feet higher.

The Spring Valley Water Company hired renowned waterworks engineer Allen Hazen, C.E. (1869-1930) to study the dam’s failure and provide recommendations as to how the dam might be completed. Hazen memorialized his findings in the classic paper titled “Hydraulic Fill Dams,” in the 1921 ASCE Transactions (vol. 83:1713-1805). Hazen recognized the slope movement as a classic flow failure, which led to the establishment of the term “liquefaction,” which Hazen described as the “quicksand condition in dams,” relating safety factor to the void ratio of the material. Hazen asserted that somewhere between a void ration of 40% and 50% the core material became unstable, and that this observation was consistent with other failures or partial quicksand failures that had been observed in other hydraulic fill dams, such as Necaxa Dam in Mexico (at 192 ft, the highest dam in the world at the time Calaveras Dam failed). Hazen concluded that the greatest problem with Calaveras Dam was the high percentage of clay, which remained in a suspended fabric, more resistant to normal consolidation. Hazen recommended using core materials of considerable coarseness, not less than 0.02 mm. In situations with wide clay-rich cores, flatter side slopes should be employed on the sloping shells, and all attempts should be made to compact the materials as much as possible, to reduce their void ratio to 40% or less.

A separate forensic analysis of the Calaveras Dam failure was carried out by consulting engineers C. H. Swigart (Supervising Engineer for the Corps of Engineers in the Pacific Northwest) and D. C. Henny (consulting engineer from Portland) for the U.S. Reclamation Service, dated May 25, 1918. Henny disagreed with Hazen’s back-analysis of the average basal friction coefficient being 0.20, stating that it was likely much larger beneath the sloping shells comprised of more coarse grained materials, likely in the range of 0.50 to 0.70. Henny calculated the friction coefficients at San Pablo Dam, then under construction, about 20 miles northwest of Calaveras Dam, and found values of 0.45 to 0.55, with less than 200 feet of overburden. He felt that these figures would be closer to 0.70 when the embankment rose to a level approaching 200 ft, which was the approximate height of the Calaveras Dam when it failed in 1918.

The dam was not completed until 1923, and the overall height was reduced by 25 feet. The slide material was removed and reworked, and the new core was placed more slowly, using hydraulic fill methods with periodic measurements of core fill density. The reservoir level was also raised during construction to provide more lateral stability.

These discussions were invaluable in trying to understand the mechanisms involved in triggering massive Fort Peck Dam failure in 1937, after Hazen and Henny had both passed away. These revelations are described in Arthur Casagrande’s 1965 Terzaghi Lecture, published in the ASCE Journal of the Soil Mechanics & Foundations Division 91:SM4 (1-40).


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