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Portland Water Bureau

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Engineering the Future: The Adventures of a Water Bureau Intern

Water Bureau intern prepares to inspect a conduitHao Vo isn’t one to back down from an adventure.

From rock climbing to snowboarding, Hao describes himself as an “adventure buff” who prefers early mornings surrounded by nature over late nights on the town. Thanks to his love of exploration, in May 2017, Hao was excited to begin his adventure at the Water Bureau.

What he didn’t know is how far (or how deep) his seven-month journey would take him.

Exploring Oregon’s Wilderness

Hao Vo (pronounced “how voh”) interned at the Water Bureau from May to December 2017. A senior engineering student at Portland State University, Hao came to the Water Bureau through the Civil Engineering Cooperative program (CECOP). CECOP is a cooperative educational program that gives students the opportunity to team up with local agencies to gain hands-on experience for what they learn in the classroom.

Part of Hao’s real-world experience in the Water Bureau’s engineering group included inspecting 181 water culverts in the Bull Run Watershed.

The Bull Run Watershed is home to over 2,000 culverts. These culverts help water travel quickly and safely from higher elevations in the watershed to the lower-elevation reservoirs. Culverts also work to protect service roads from washing away by sending water runoff beneath the roads surfaces that crisscross through the thick understory of the federally protected forestland.

Each year, Water Bureau engineers inspect the watershed culverts for signs of damage and to ensure culverts have enough capacity to adequately manage water runoff during the watershed’s rainy winters.

Culvert inspections are performed in accordance to the Water Bureau's approach to asset management. Asset management combines engineering, economics, and business practices to identify the most cost-effective and efficient way to maintain, repair, and replace the bureau’s assets – from everything like culverts to maintenance trucks.

Water Bureau intern performing data input workInterning: A Day in the Life

Hao began his intern days at 7 a.m. in the Water Bureau offices in downtown Portland. After checking email and finishing data input work from the previous day, he would look at the list of that day’s assignments. Going to the watershed? Hao checks out a city vehicle, fires up his GPS, and heads out to the field.

Hao’s culvert inspection toolkit included a yard stick, tape measure, inclinometer, and an iPad to input field data into the Water Bureau’s tracking systems. Also in his bag: a machete.

His days would range from eight to nine hours in the watershed, inspecting about 13 to 15 culverts each day. Often, culverts are located far from each other and off well-maintained service roads. This meant that one day he found himself hiking through a patch of prickly salmonberry, using his machete to carefully clear a path for his adventure.

In addition to culvert inspections, Hao also assisted with inspecting conduits – the large pipelines that carry water from the watershed into the city.

What would Hao say to someone thinking about interning at the Water Bureau? “Do it,” he says with a smile. “I got the chance to see a lot of the watershed that is closed off to the public. Plus, I got to get hands-on experience at one of Oregon’s largest utilities.”

Because of his time at the Water Bureau, Hao got to explore interests that he didn’t even know he had, like the time he spoke with Engineering Supervisor Tim Collins about landslide detection failure angle calculations. The conversation led him to uncover his interest in geotech. “Always keep an open mind,” Hao suggests, “There’s so much to learn.”

A culvert in the Bull Run WatershedA Conduit to Success

Hao finished his internship last December, and he has big plans for the future. Water engineering. Marine engineering. A job with the Navy.

The future looks bright for Hao.

Interested in Being a Water Bureau Intern?

For more information about the Civil Engineering Cooperative Program, visit the Multiple Engineering Co-Op Program website.

Want to learn more about how the Water Bureau cares for its nearly $7 billion worth of water-system assets?  Visit the Water Bureau Asset Management program page.