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Andy Rheaume: Bridging Science, Engineering, and Policy for the Environment

Andy RheaumeBorn and raised in Bothell, Mayor Andy Rheaume (’04, Environmental Science) came to IAS as a single father trying to complete a bachelor’s degree.  He knew he wanted to pursue a science degree, and the Environmental Science major both fit his immediate goals and widened his perceptions and career path.

“UW Bothell provided me with an opportunity that just wasn’t available elsewhere”, he says. “I would probably still be mowing lawns or something like that if it wasn’t that I was able to get a degree from IAS to do something more with my life.”

After graduating with a B.S. in Environmental Science, Andy was hired as Program Coordinator for the City of Redmond Stormwater Utility, which manages the environmental impacts of streams and stormwater runoff from the developed areas of the municipality. He then took a position as Senior Scientist for Seattle Public Utilities, where he designed tests to investigate sources of PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) in the storm system. Man-made carcinogenic toxins, used widely in WWII airplane manufacture, PCBs were dumped into the Duwamish River in large quantities before the U.S. Congress banned them in 1979.  Because they continue to make their way into the water system, regional cleanup efforts depend upon tracking down the sources of contamination.

Andy is currently back with the City of Redmond as Senior Planner for the Stormwater Utility, which he sees as a watershed ecologist role.  This requires taking a long-term policy look at stormwater and environmental management issues, as well as drafting codes and regulations that are adopted by the city.

“I work to preserve a healthy environment, or at least some remnant of it, in the context of continuing development and build-out in the same location,” says Andy. “This is extremely difficult. The accumulated experience of the last century suggests that it’s almost impossible to accommodate that.”

Andy’s B.S. in Environmental Science provides the foundation of his watershed ecology approach. Experiences like working with Martha Groom and Warren Gold, as one of the first IAS students to complete the Restoration Ecology Network capstone ground his understanding of complex and evolving systems.

Andy’s work has led him to serve as a Bothell City Councilman over the last four years. He was reelected this past November for another four, and was voted in as mayor by the City Council this month. In Bothell, the City Council is the board that runs the municipal corporation, setting policy and making budget decisions: the mayor chairs that board. Andy brings his watershed ecology background to part of his work for Bothell City Council, focusing on Chinook salmon secovery. More largely, Andy’s education, professional background, and council work have involved him in a number of public service roles that address the relation of built and natural environments, from salmon recovery efforts to transportation and traffic committees.

Across all his different roles—scientist, policy planner, city councilmember, environmental advocate— Andy works with a wide variety of stakeholders, from legislators, to fellow scientists and engineers, to the general public. He credits the interdisciplinary and engaged education he received as a student in IAS with giving him the ability to act as a “bridger” across groups.

“I work closely with engineers, scientists, and policy planners. Those three groups don’t communicate all that well.  But the background I have from IAS lets me understand how all three of those areas work. Being a technical person who knows how to communicate is a huge asset to a municipal corporation.  Municipalities can have a hard time trying to tell the public about technical issues clearly and without jargon.  Keeping a wider perspective so that people can come together around a set of issues is something I learned in IAS.  

“IAS gives you a really unique set of skills that traditional disciplines don’t have. I came out with the ability to build reports, do good presentations, and perform research.  It’s like a Swiss Army knife degree, it doesn’t give you just one tool. This is extremely valuable.”

Andy Rheaume with his family