Tracy Emmanuel Helps Rivers Run Free
A fluvial geomorphologist by education, Tracy Emmanuel in Otak’s Colorado office has recently been promoted to Business Unit Leader for Otak’s Water & Natural Resources Division in Colorado. In this role, she will be responsible for leading a team of scientists and engineers to identify and win work, develop and coach her team members, and continue to apply her technical and project management abilities in the execution of projects. Matt Marshall, Regional Business Development Manager at Otak said, “Tracy is a triple threat. She’s super smart, she’s really good with clients, and is a genuine and caring leader and coach for her team.”
Tracy did not find a love of rivers right away. She first loved math and actually chose her college based solely on her desire to run cross country. However, an injury changed her trajectory and she found that college opened her eyes and her aspirations to a career with rivers.
“My geology teacher gave me a book of hydrology for engineers and it really resonated with me,” Tracy said further emphasizing that spending her free time whitewater kayaking instead of running sealed the deal.
Once hooked, Tracy went on to graduate school where she was able to work with world-renowned geomorphologist, Ellen Wohl. More than 17 years later, Tracy has built a solid reputation in her own right having worked on projects in Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, Arizona, New Mexico, Nevada, and Washington. Her expertise includes floodplain reconnection, stable channel, and fish habitat design, as well as flood recovery and water diversion improvement planning and design.
In 2014, Tracy, along with a handful of colleagues from a previous firm, joined Otak and began their work on several projects along St. Vrain Creek, Lefthand Creek, and the Poudre and Big Thompson Rivers mitigating the massive destruction of the 2013 Colorado flooding triggered by a 1000 year rain event.
“The flooding in the Front Range raised the profile of why geomorphology is so important. Rivers aren’t going to stay where they are. They are going to move and it’s critical to understand that potential for adjustment,” Tracy said. She continued to highlight how that experience proved that natural riverine systems that can retain some of their natural adjustment processes, as opposed to human cut channels and structural solutions, serve to better protect people, property, and the environment.
Recently Tracy has been leading the Otak team on the Godfrey Ditch Diversion replacement project on the Middle South Platte River in Weld County, Colorado, taking it from conceptual design to construction. The federally funded project is designed to reduce sediment transport disruptions, improve maintenance requirements, limit damage potential in future floods, and enhance aquatic and riparian habitats. Following a lengthy alternative analysis, the team decided to move the point of diversion upstream 900 feet to a more stable location, replacing the 9-foot failing structure with a 3-foot-tall bladder dam structure, fish passage ramp, and increased efficiencies in ditch infrastructure. Tracy recently spoke of the work Otak is doing in this area at the Poudre Riverfest.