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A Conversation with Nicole Beck, Champion of Water Quality & Ultimate Frisbee

A Conversation with Nicole Beck, Champion of Water Quality & Ultimate Frisbee
The 2NDNATURE team poses near their office on Seabright Ave in Santa Cruz, Ca.

By Molly Ressler

A retired ultimate frisbee jersey hangs from the wall in Nicole Beck’s office on Seabright Avenue. She won nationals, not once, but eight times in her athletic career and is one of two women in the USA Ultimate Hall of Fame. Although Beck no longer plays competitive ultimate frisbee, the biogeochemist runs her water quality management consultancy, 2NDNATURE, like a team.

“Everybody has a role,” explains Beck. “People have different strengths but everybody collaborates. It’s about trying to figure out where each person thrives.”

Beck started 2NDNATURE in 2005 to help cities and counties comply with regulations from the Clean Water Act. After more than a decade in the field, Beck grew frustrated with the existing methods of water quality monitoring--cities and counties were collecting data but their stormwater managers struggled to translate it into actionable information. This led to the creation of 2NDNATURE’s software suite 2NFORM.

Launched in January of 2017, 2NFORM is now used by nearly every city in the counties of Santa Cruz, Monterey, and San Luis Obispo and the team has pilot projects running throughout California.

“I really want to bring science to decision makers in formats that they can understand,” explains Beck. The 2NFORM software does just that and has the potential to empower land managers to make more sustainable land management decisions, improving the quality of our natural water resources across California.


Mapping our trash

So how exactly does 2NFORM take data and transform it into actionable policy? Take the San Lorenzo River in Santa Cruz, for example. Many different pollutants enter our river from the urban landscape. These include oil from our cars and herbicides and fertilizers from private gardens and commercial landscaping. The most visible pollutant, however, is litter.   

With 2NFORM, a stormwater manager can easily track the different levels of cigarette butts, plastic bags, to-go containers and other trash littering outfall locations (the points where pollutants enter our waterways like storm drains) throughout the city. With a tablet or smartphone, the manager snaps photos of the litter, uploads them into 2NFORM, and captures the date and geolocation of the site. The location then receives a rating on a scale from zero (squeaky clean) to four (enough litter to fill a 5-gallon bucket.) 2NFORM analyzes this data and creates hotspot maps that illustrate the approximate quantity of litter in locations across the city.

Why are these maps important? Well for starters, the state of California aims to have zero urban litter discharging from the urban landscape into our waterways by the year 2030. The maps provided by 2NFORM help cities and counties understand where they need to focus their litter reduction efforts in order to meet this ambitious goal.

Beck also hopes that the 2NFORM software will help the general public understand why we should care about stormwater. This means tapping into the power of citizen science. “We’ve disrupted the entire hydrologic cycle in the urban landscape,” says Beck. “There needs to be a lot of other people beyond just Public Works who participate in tracking litter because it’s a social problem.”

If you’re interested in helping 2NDNATURE gather data, get in touch through their contact page. The passionate team of 10 (plus 3 dogs) is also looking for a full-time JavaScript/Front-End Developer. View the full job description here.

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Molly (Lautamo) Ressler is a writer and content strategist based in Santa Cruz. Find more of her work at