A behind-the-scenes battle to divert L.A.'s storm water from going to waste

The storm had gathered power for days as it crossed the Northern Pacific, and now its outer band was uppercutting the coast. By the time Eric Batman arrived at work at 7 Monday morning, a hard west wind was driving rain and hail sideways against windows.

Thunder reverberated across the L.A. Basin. Batman reveled in El Niño's long-overdue rumbling. His job, as senior civil engineer for the county Department of Public Works, is to keep as much rain as possible from escaping to the ocean.

He wished this storm would slow down a bit. Let the mountains wring more of that water out. Make it more of a challenge.

Even at its current clip, the clouds would drop hundreds of millions of gallons on Southern California, and he needed to make sure the system was ready.

On the second floor of the department's headquarters in Alhambra, he checked in with the "storm boss," the on-duty engineer in charge of monitoring flow rates throughout the 3,300-mile network of storm drains, channels, debris basins, dams, spreading grounds — everything humans have built over the last century to control the water racing from the high San Gabriels to the sea.

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