The Life of a Civil / Environmental Engineer

By Justin Milton 

March 15, 2024

Scott Smith works at Stillwater Sciences, an environmental consulting firm with an office in Morro Bay and other locations in the Southwest. Currently, he and the crew are working on several projects, like restoring Prefumo Creek in SLO, Coyote Creek around Morgan Hill, and a coastal marsh south of Pacifica. On March 12th, I shadowed him to get an idea of what the job involves because of my interest in Civil and Environmental Engineering.

First, he explained the work being done on the marsh near Pacifica with a detailed map outlining the assessments they made and plans developed. To put it short, their plan was to use dirt and wood reinforcements to seal off water channels made in the marsh for farming in the 19th century so it can naturally heal itself. 

Next, I shadowed a video call with a coworker in another office location. Their call revolved around restoring Coyote Creek near the base of Anderson Dam and percolation ponds farther north in Morgan Hill. This part was cool in that I got to see the depth of the computer generations of the ponds and spots that were to be edited. 

Once the call ended, we discussed important aspects of his job. He enjoys working with his coworkers and feels that his job has an impact on the community. His view of the future is fairly optimistic: as climate change impacts become more prevalent, he expects there to be an ongoing and likely increasing demand for civil and environmental engineers like him. 

The next task for us was doing a biannual inspection of Prefumo Creek. We got into weighters, a pair of heavy pants, then walked on over to the creek at Los Osos Valley Road. During the rest of the time I had with them, we slowly walked upstream as they discussed the creek’s condition.The two biggest topics discussed were debris and erosion. Debris, mainly branches, needed to be removed to decongest the creek. With erosion, they discussed reinforcing the sides and adding rocks to slow water and erosion down. I learned an important reality about  their work; it was unlikely to matter much in the sense that the city has limited funding and that a long-term investment in stabilizing the creek wasn’t a priority for them. Still it showed me the kind of problem solving and consistency the job requires.