Central Arizona Project is an engineering marvel that pumps water over 336 miles and literally lifts water more than 2,900 vertical feet.

Brian Fisher

Keeping water flowing day after day means keeping up with changing hydrology such as changes to terrain due to development, evolving drainage patterns and subsidence due to groundwater pumping. That’s where Brian and his teammates come in, taking some of the most scientifically advanced equipment into some of Arizona’s harshest environments.

In a nutshell, what do you do for CAP?

I’m a land surveyor, which means I measure things that are relative to something else and I try to get the same answer twice. Measurements are typically distances between two (or more) points on a project. The two points may be 75 miles apart, like in a control survey, or they may be a fraction of an inch apart, like in a crack monitoring study.

How did you get into this line of work?

In high school, I got into calculus both in math and physics, so I started my adult life with a strong math/science background. Right out of high school, I joined the Navy and was in the Seabees, which is a Construction Battalion. Math plus construction equals being good at surveying. In college, I majored first in electronics, then switched majors to civil engineering then switched again to finally graduate with a degree in land surveying.

How does the work you do on a daily basis affect our water supply?

CAP’s survey group deals with where the property lines are for CAP’s entire system. We also work on adjacent construction projects, utility and road crossings, encroachment issues and the purchase and sale of property. And, we get involved in capital improvement projects where construction crews are building or fixing large civil engineering works. Our group is involved in mapping efforts, the underlying framework for aerial images and digital terrain models. We also perform structural deformation and land subsidence analysis for Maintenance Engineering on two dams: New Waddell and Reach 11.

What are some of the technical advances that allow you to do your job more effectively and efficiently?

Land Surveyors take some of the most scientifically advanced equipment into some of the harshest environments, for both man and machine, on a daily basis. What we work with is very literally “rocket science.” Our GPS equipment uses Einstein’s theory of general relativity to synchronize the clock in the GPS on the end of the surveying rod with the clocks on the satellites orbiting the Earth. We’ve also got robotic equipment (a robotically self-driven electronic theodolite with integrated coaxial electronic distance meter) that can tract a sensor’s every move in real time at a precision of fractions of an inch for a radius of hundreds of feet in every direction. We have digital differential leveling equipment that can measure differences in elevation thousands of feet apart to precisions that are less than the width of a few human hairs. Couple that with the several different field computers we use (smart phones with custom apps, laptops and other data collectors) and you have a truly mobile office.

What's the most challenging part of your work?

The environment we work in can be a challenge: heat, wind, rain, environmental hazards, traffic, heavy equipment and animals. If it isn’t trying to fry, crush or squish you then it’s trying to sting, bite or poke you! Every job is different. Every job has a new challenge. That’s part of what I love about it, though.

What's the most gratifying part of your job?

Surveying keeps me outside most of the time and surveyors work solo or on a small crew and I’ve always liked that, too. I like that surveying is very often right in the middle of the professional engineers and architects and the tradesman on a project. Very often, everyone is looking to the surveyor to act as the liaison or interpreter. Surveyors take the paper plans and literally draw them at one-to-one scale on the ground to be constructed. We are then often asked to take ambiguities or conflicts in the design found in the field and draw them back on the plans so the engineers and architects can resolve the issues. The same thing happens with property issues. One side of the equation are the lawyers, land agents and owners with the other side of the equation being the physical world, historic documents and forensic evidence of property markings. It can be a lot of pressure and the stakes can often be insurmountably high, but that’s half the fun!

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