Reader Profile: Michael Harding

June 15, 2013

The phone rings from a site where soil has been disturbed. Like a rock rolling downhill in a landslide, Michael Harding dashes off to assess the damage so it can be remediated. As a senior consultant with Geosyntec Consultants’ San Diego Old Town office, Harding performs erosion and sediment control in its many forms and at many locations: post-fire restoration work, a utility right of way, mining reclamation, landfills, and stormwater-related issues. He teaches courses for California’s stormwater program. He’s a three-time past president of the International Erosion Control Association (IECA) and is now chairman of its International Regional Council. A Certified Professional in Erosion and Sediment Control (CPESC), Harding helped develop the program’s course material and test. He and his late wife, Carol Forrest, worked together on the Certified Professional in Storm Water Quality (CPSWQ) materials.

What He Does on a Day-to-Day Basis
No two days are alike: Harding mentors younger Geosyntec employees on the company’s projects. He’s involved in university-level stormwater research. He’s often tapped as an expert witness in litigation. And he writes: A recent project was the script for the American Society of Civil Engineers’ awards banquet.

What Led Him Into Erosion and Sediment Control
Harding developed a love for soil and water in his native Indiana when, as a child, he would float down the Blue River from his city home to his grandparents’ farm for dinner. His family assumed he’d farm, but his grandmother sold the farm after his grandfather died. Instead, Harding studied natural resources and the fledgling discipline of environmental sciences at Purdue University as an undergraduate and did his graduate work in animal behavior, studying timber wolves. He has been engaged in water-quality issues since then. “It’s not just a career, it’s the way I live,” he says. “I’ve always had a passion for it, whether I’m doing field work, teaching, or writing.” Harding says he learned long ago “if you really want to protect the environment, you better damn well own it.” Carol had always wanted to buy back some of his family’s farm, which wasn’t available until after her death. Harding purchased 70 acres of wooded land on either side of the Flatrock River. A memorial for Carol-also a past IECA president-is located on the river. Harding splits his time between his San Diego home and the Indiana farm near Edinburgh. He bought and remodeled a century-old Masonic lodge complete with an opera house on the lower level. Named the Owens-Forrest Environmental Institute for his family and his late wife, the lodge is used to teach stormwater management and environmental restoration work courses by day. On Saturday nights, it’s a gathering place for bluegrass entertainment.

What He Likes Most About His Work
“I love doing the work in this business because I’m good at it,” Harding says. His experience enables him to identify what needs to be done on a site to stabilize it, prevent erosion, and promote growth. Most of all, Harding likes teaching, mentoring, and sharing information. “You need to look beyond your own life span in this business, visualize what nature would do in your absence, and set the table for it,” he says. Harding points out that while he’s had a hand in writing regulations regarding nonpoint-source pollution and reclamation of mined lands, he doesn’t believe regulations improve environmental quality as much as changing people’s habits and attitudes. He focuses on teaching principles. “I don’t care what the regulations are,” he says. “If people don’t understand them or have the ethics to be passionate about it, to believe in what they do, we’re all doomed.”

His Biggest Challenge and What He’s Doing to Meet It Harding says he’s challenged daily to be relevant. “I feel like I need to always learn,” he says. “People will tell you I’m considered an expert in a lot of aspects of our field, but I surely don’t consider myself an expert. When you stop learning in this business, that’s when you should just give it up. I learn all of the time, even when I teach. Carol always used to say every day you’ve got to prove yourself. I think that’s true.”
About the Author

Carol Brzozowski

Carol Brzozowski specializes in topics related to resource management and technology.