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Civil Engineering Grad Determines if Beaches Remain Open to the Public

After earning a bachelors degree in civil engineering from the University of California at Irvine, Robert Mrse headed straight for the beach. However, surfing and tanning were not part of his plan. As co-author of a study on water quality and storm runoff prevention at Avalon Bay, Calif., Mrse spent most of his beach time in an old ticket booth that served as a makeshift laboratory. There, he analyzed water samples and was able to pinpoint the culprit of bacterial contamination that had been plaguing the bay: decaying sewage pipes in the downtown area adjacent to the shore were leaking into the water.

Mrse's dedication to work pursuits rather than fun in the sun have paid off in many ways for the now 28-year-old engineer. Bacteria levels along the Avalon shoreline decreased by more than 50% following his work in 2000. "This particular study was cool in that we actually were able to find the source and make a difference," he says.

Mrse's experience in water quality and stormwater management also helped propel him into a budding career as an engineer. . "I was curious about hydrology," he says. After his work at Irvine, Mrse joined RBF Consulting, ranked 83rd in ENR's Top 500 Design Firms in the U.S., and now works as a design engineer for stormwater management in the company's Irvine office. An active member of his local chapter of the American Society of Civil Engineering, Mrse says his experience with water quality and storm water management, along with merits from his university job, helped him land his current position during a time of economic downturn.

Currently, Mrse is working on a Runoff Management Plan for a planned community in Orange County, Calif., called Santiago Hills, where water quality could negatively impact the surrounding environment if the correct safety measures are not taken, Mrse says. His days are occupied with hydrologic analysis on the 495-acre project, financed by Irvine Community Development Co. Mrse conducts site work based on topographic maps to determine if runoff from the development will exceed standard limits. Although some of his workdays may extend into long hours, Mrse still finds his work at RBF and in the field of civil engineering fulfilling. "Growing up in Southern California I guess I felt a sense of social obligation to the environment," he says.


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