Well, I did the aqueduct patrol last Thursday.
This is a daily, or mostly daily, patrol of the length of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, from the outlet in Sylmar to the inlet about 90 miles north of Bishop, CA. We left the filtration plant a little after 8 AM, stopped for lunch in Bishop on the way back, and were back at 3:30 PM.
If this seems like a fast trip, it was – average speed probably 80 miles per hour, counting time spent on the ground.
Oh, those last three words are a clue. The aqueduct patrol is done by helicopter.
I'm not sure why we're being offered the chance, but everyone in Water Quality was offered a chance to go on a ride-along on the patrol.
I decided I'd go for it, and the trip wound up being postponed one day. Last Thursday was The Day.
I got a memo in the mail, along with a set of instructions for the ride. I also made a point of taking some ginger capsules, just in case motion sickness became a factor (it didn't).
And now, The Review:
First, last, and middle – helicopter rides are cool. They are way cool. Because as much of the cockpit as possible is glass, visibility is excellent. (And because you're riding around in a little greenhouse, the air conditioning was Very Important.)
It was a bit disconcerting at first, when the ground dropped away underneath, but I got used to that fairly quickly. The four-point seat belt helped.
We flew northward, following the line of the "first barrel" of the aqueduct across mountains and valleys, until we got to the Haiwee reservoirs. After this point, the aqueduct is one pipeline all the way north.
The first barrel is the older section of the Aqueduct, built by Mulholland. It uses older technology, so it winds its way through the mountains. The second barrel follows a straighter path. The technology used in building the first barrel is impressive. Valleys are crossed using siphons, where the water flows into a "U" or "V" shaped pipeline, and emerges on the far side to continue its trip south. The pressure built up on the downward path in the siphon pushes the water back up the other side, so no pumps are required. Of course, the pressure at the bottom of the pipe is rather high. A 500-foot drop generates over 200 pounds of pressure, which can make a leak rather spectacular.
Flying over some of the valleys and canyons is fun, and it's an impressive sight. The pilot also paused over a beaver dam to give me a good view. (A week before, he spent the day with a grapple dismantling beaver dams along the river. Beavers were introduced early in the last century by the Dept of Fish and Game. They dam up the river, because that's what they're hard-wired to do.
The dams are useless in this environment, because the flooding they produce does not make any new trees available to the beavers. In areas where the land around the river is flat, the dams are a – darn – nuisance, because they create stagnant water just perfect for breeding mosquitos. And this is even more of a concern now that West Nile Virus is in California.)
We flew on northward and stopped in Bishop around 10 AM to fill up the fuel tank and empty our personal tanks. After that, we flew up to the aqueduct inlet and came back, stopping in Bishop for lunch at 11:30.
The trip back was faster, as we flew in a straight line. We also ran into thermal currents.
Now, before setting out in the morning, I mentioned having taken some precautions against motion sickness. The chief pilot told me that the flights are generally pretty smooth. He also mentioned that a helicopter pilot is perfectly capable of flying in such a way that anyone would get airsick. From this I gather that the bumpiness of the ride is largely a function of the skill (and perhaps the sadism) of the pilot.
As we moved through the thermals, the only way to tell we were in an updraft or downdraft was by following the "climb" indicator. In order to maintain level flight, the helicopter would either increase or decrease its rate of climb through the air. For example, in an updraft moving at, say, 500 feet per minute, the helicopter would have to descend at the same rate in order to maintain a level path.
I don't know how much of the smoothness of the ride was due to the pilot, and how much to the autopilot, but it was a very smooth ride.
One minor glitch that popped up – on that particular day, the President was in town. The entire city, a 30-mile circle centered on Century City, was under a flight restriction. Any aircraft entering the region had to set their transponders to a particular code issued to each plane. And, as we found out about ten miles from the restricted area, all aircraft had to have a flight plan on file. (Somehow, it's the little detail that gets left out that's the most critical.)
We put down at the Lancaster airport long enough to file a flight plan, and then headed on home. It was about ten minutes to turn around and head to Lancaster, another ten minutes to file the flight plan, and then twenty minutes to Sylmar. In all, we wound up being half an hour late.
But again, the helicopter ride was very cool, except of course for the effect of sitting in full sunlight in a flying greenhouse. I expect the offer will come around again, and I have every intention of accepting it when it does. Only this time, I intend to have a camera with me.
Now – does this improve the security of our water system at all? I don't know. In a vacuum, I suppose it might. Does it improve security as much as expending the same money in some other area might? I don't know.
Fortunately, it's not my job. My amateur kibbitzing, on those occasions when I do it, are purely amateur kibbitzing, and worth every penny the Department pays for it.