Posted by: Brad Nixon | February 1, 2010

Diver Dan

The title means nothing unless you’re Of A Certain Age, so first I’ll give you some background about why this title — which does have something to do with my main topic — is an iconic one, and then I’ll get to the point of the piece, which is NOT a retrospective about 1960s kids’ television.

“Diver Dan” Background:

When I was a kid, there was a relatively low-budget TV short program (7 min. per episode) titled “Diver Dan.” It was shot in live action with a few human actors and lots of puppets as the undersea life. To learn more, you can start at the Wikipedia listing, HERE, or poke around on the Web. For you hard-core nostalgists, there are even some episodes available on DVD. None for me, thanks. Context established, we proceed with today’s story.

And Now Our Story

Sunday morning, I stepped out the front door to regard the dawning day (actually the day had dawned without me and let me sleep in). I noticed that the lower part of our yard near the street had developed a flowing water feature it had not previously possessed. Water was bubbling up steadily and running down into the gutter: enough to fill a bathtub every couple of minutes. Okay, something’s sprung a leak. Immediately I thought about the series of notices we’ve received from the water company, offering us water line insurance, to cover the costs should we experience something like, um, just this present predicament. Fortunately, when a supervisor from the water department, James, arrived, he determined that it was a water company line, not ours, so we escaped having to pay for it.

The point of this introduction is to describe what I learned about water distribution from James, who, since 1991, has been in charge of that function for “The Hill,” as it’s known here, the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The water company pumps water up into a number of big tanks, and from there, a gravity-fed distribution system sends water to all of us down below.

One can always learn interesting things about what other peoples’ jobs are like, but you have to ask some questions, you have to be asking someone who’s interested in explaining things, and there has to be some time available, whether it’s at a social gathering or, in this case, standing in the driveway waiting for the repair crew to arrive. This was my chance to learn about the water distribution business from James.

What I learned from James.

At the top of the The Hill is the water distribution center. From there, the water company staff uses a series of gauges and monitors to balance the flow of water to the various parts of the peninsula. They measure the outbound flow from storage tanks against the amount of water they are pumping into the tanks. Two tanks near my house a few hundred feet higher in elevation each hold 3 million gallons of water. Two more tanks at the very crest of the hill each hold 6 million gallons. Not far from there and at nearly the same elevation, at the central facility, a single underground tank holds 9 million gallons. It’s nearly the size of a football field and forty feet deep, all underground.

Summer, of course, is the season of highest demand. Now, in mid-winter, which is also the rainy season, when we don’t need as much water for our lawns and swimming pools, demand is significantly lower. This is the time in which the water company can, if needed, rotate some of the storage tanks out of service for maintenance or repair.

And that’s the cue for Diver Dan.

Diver Dan is a professional diver who specializes in this sort of work. Each winter the water company employs him to inspect the vast 9 million gallon main tank. Diver Dan arrives with his specialized gear: lights, cameras, waterproof write-on boards to record findings, and special dye-releasing equipment. Methodically he works his way around the underground underwater realm of the tank, releasing bursts of dye near the concrete walls. If there is any leak, his lights and cameras record how the dye flows toward and into the seams in the concrete, verifying the presence of a leak. I regret that I did not have the chance to interview Diver Dan for this piece, because I have some questions to ask him!

If Diver Dan’s inspection reveals enough significant leakage to call for repairs (and this determination is not subjective, it’s governed by rules established by the EPA and other agencies) then the water company lets regular demand draw down the water level in the main tank and, when the level is low enough, sends in repair crews to caulk the leaking joints.

I’d like to see that operation down in the big, dark echoing vault of the concrete space. If I manage to get a tour, I’ll post a followup with pictures.

This story is filed under “California” on the blog categories in the right-hand column because of our love-hate relationship with water, but the process is more or less the same whether you live here or in Portland or Colorado Springs or Syracuse. Someone in each of these places is keeping pumps working to fill those cylindrical tanks at higher elevations in concert with the outgoing flow through hundreds or thousands of miles of gravity-fed underground pipes. If you live in Amarillo or Toledo or somewhere else without much elevation available, water pressure is a concern, but if, like us here on The Hill, with the tanks more than a thousand feet above sea level, you’ve got it good.

This is not new technology. Imperial Rome had a magnificent series of aqueducts that carried water into the city of more than a million people from the surrounding hills and, with a few repairs in the intervening 2,000 years, the very same system delivers water to the Trevi Fountain, Bellini’s fountain masterpieces in the Piazza Navona and scores of other little fountains all around the city. (The Romans did have a bit of a problem, because their pipes were made from lead, which, after a lifetime or two, might deliver a bit of lead poisoning. That’s also the derivation of the words for “plumbing” and “plumber,” since the Latin word for “lead” is “plumbus,” which is also the source of the scientific symbol for lead, “Pb.”) On a blistering July day, the Counselor and I waited for a bus next to one of these little fountains just a few yards away from the Piazzo Argentino, near the foot of the Vittorio Emanuele monument. Cab drivers, truck drivers and regular citizens would stop their cars at the curb, dash over to the fountain and fill their water bottles at this fountain, get back in the vehicle and drive on. Thanks, Augustus. Nice water system!


Now everybody!:

Beee-LOW in the deep

There’s ad-ven-ture and dan-ger

THAT’s where you’ll find

Di-ver Daaan!

© Brad Nixon 2010, 2017


  1. Well well, That sounds like a bit ‘o hassle you had there. Piping, Diver Dan Gallons of water…. Sounds like you had quite the Sunday. In my Country we do everything to keep the water out, because we have quite enough all ready. We do that by series of canals and streams and in the lower parts we pump it with a “Gemaal” . back in to the rivers so we won’t get wet feet.
    Since we have no real hills or mountains except maybe “de Wageningse berg”(I live very close to it) which is maybe, 50 meters high. And that’s about it.
    My country is as flat as a dime. It’s very interesting to hear how you handle water distribution. If you ever want to see a nice aqueduct I’d suggest you go to Italy or France. I know of a particularly nice one near Lyon en France. Might even have a photo of it somewhere. But the real thing is quite a marvel of ancient engineering. On the part about me I have to things to say:

    the first – Brad, I enjoy commenting to your blog very much. I just don’t think that spilling my guts about all kinds of subjects, is a place for your comment field. So I started my own blog to vent off the air over there. I will of course keep commenting on your posts as well. If you like it of course.

    The second is to your audience: Brad is exaggerating. I just play with my hearth, the only way you should play a harp and I still have loads to learn about English.

    P.S.: The Dutch tend to attenuate complements. We easily get shy when put on a pedestal. Probably because every one who gets his head above the field has the risk of getting it cut off by other Dutch , as a figure of speech. But, thank you Brad I think You’re great too(learning here).


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