The People of Reclamation: Meet Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region Dive Team
Written by: Emily Quinn
Dive Team Leader, Caireen Ulepic operates communication box for Surface-Supplied Air DiveThe Bureau of Reclamation is best known for managing dams, powerplants, and canals throughout the 17 western states. What people may not realize about Reclamation is that it houses a unique variety of career opportunities that are atypical to government career stereotypes. In today’s People of Reclamation Story, we’re highlighting the work of Reclamation’s Lower Colorado Region Dive Team.
The LCR Dive Team operates on an as-needed basis. Currently, two Reclamation employees serve on the dive team full time and the rest through auxiliary duty assignments. Members range in areas of expertise. The current team roster includes engineers, biologists, security staff, hydrologists, mechanics, an audio visual production specialist, and maintenance staff.
Dives are scheduled for a number of reasons, such as conducting safety inspections, aquatic studies, and providing minor repairs to stream gauging stations. Seth Ostrowski, Supervisory Engineer and LCR’s Dive Team Manager, explains, “We do a number of inspections throughout the year which are critical to ensuring [Reclamation’s] structures are safe for operation.”
Reclamation currently houses two separate dive teams: the LCR team which covers parts of Nevada, Utah, Arizona, California and New Mexico, and the Pacific Northwest Region’s team which covers parts of Idaho, Oregon and Washington.
Caireen Ulepic is the LCR Dive Team Leader. Ulepic is the person who provides oversight for all of the underwater work projects. She schedules and coordinates all of the trainings and dives in the LCR, and keeps the team on task. One of Ulepic’s most notable dives involved discovering a new group of fish located about two miles below the Hoover Dam, in the Colorado River.
During her time on the team, Ulepic has conducted dives at each of the dams located on the Lower Colorado River; all the way from Hoover Dam on the Arizona-Nevada border, to Laguna Dam which is located on the Arizona-California border about 215 miles downstream of Hoover.
The fact that Reclamation has a dive team surprises many people. Before joining Reclamation, Civil Engineering Technician Jim Burke received his Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration, Management from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. It wasn’t until he began working a summer job cleaning boats and dive gear for Reclamation that Burke realized Reclamation had a dive team. It was this experience that led Burke to discovering his passion for diving.
Burke initiated his pursuit to join the dive team by assisting divers on surface-supplied air dives. Soon thereafter, Burke enrolled himself in Beginner, Advanced, and then Rescue Scuba certification classes at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has been a member of the LCR dive team ever since.
Ostrowski studied Mechanical Engineering at New Mexico State University. He developed a passion for diving while training to become a U.S. Navy Deep Sea Diving and Salvage Officer. Ostrowski then became a full-time diver with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers team, and led a team from 1994-1997. His transition to Supervisory Engineer with Reclamation’s dive team was a welcome opportunity he couldn’t ignore.
“The team has been a fantastic way to see a large number of Reclamation facilities and field locations,” says Ostrowski. “The team spirit and work ethic is extremely high. We trust each other, and that sense of trust is what has led us to form a tight knit group.”
Team member Nathaniel Gee is a civil engineer. He operates out of Reclamation’s Examination of Existing Structures/Safety of Dams Group. He was surprised to learn that Reclamation has two of its own dive teams. Nathaniel says, “It was neat to find out that Reclamation has its own dive team. I thought it was cool that Reclamation has in-house dive teams because I’d always thought it was something Reclamation contracted out.”
The experience of being a part of the LCR dive team is quite unique, and though it’s challenging work, it’s also rewarding. According to Gee, “The best part is getting to see all of Reclamation’s facilities, getting to meet all of the people who work at the facilities, and learning more about everything that goes on in Reclamation’s operations.” He says, “It’s easy to get stuck in your own world sometimes, and it’s cool to see how all of the facilities tie together.”
Becoming a member of Reclamation’s dive team is not necessarily a planned endeavor. Rather, the opportunity tends to present itself to individuals working for Reclamation, and encompasses a wide variety of skills and disciplines.
Alex Stephens, the LCR dive team’s Audiovisual Production Specialist says, “Working underwater can be quite a challenge; humans generally aren’t supposed to be underwater for extended periods of time so this can make something as simple as taking photographs or measurements quite difficult. Some of the variables that make underwater tasks a challenge to complete are low visibility, cold temperatures, flow, and the even the simple act of breathing while underwater. Each dive job is different and presents its own challenges.”
Before an employee is considered eligible, he/she must complete the following training courses: Open Water, Advanced Open Water, and Rescue Diver certification through a third party instruction program. Additionally, those interested must be able to complete Surface Supplied Air diving operations which involves the diver being tethered to the surface via an umbilical air supply and helmet.
The ideal dive team candidate must enjoy challenging, hands-on work. S/he must be organized and a skilled planner. Most importantly, Ostrowski says, “Members of the dive team must be expert problem-solvers, and they must be able to improvise.” Divers must be ready to adapt to each experience, and no two dives are exactly the same.
Dive team members must be able to manage their time wisely. According to Ostrowski, “Team members need to be able to balance their daily duties with the demands of the Dive Team. This is not the kind of diving you see people doing in the Bahamas. The work can be very challenging.”
There is no such thing as a “typical” day in the field. Some days, the team dives by facilities covered in snow, and other days they dive when temperatures outside are over 100 degrees. Dives are dictated by the mission, and team members must remain flexible for the various demands involved with each operation.
Being a member of a Reclamation dive team requires dedication, commitment, strong communication skills, and an ability to work effectively in a team setting. The work is challenging at times, but the team dynamic and intrinsic rewards earned from each experience make it all worthwhile.
Learn more about the work we do at www.usbr.gov.
Members of LCR Dive Team Conduct Inspections
LCR Dive Team staff working at Lake Mead
LCR Dive Team staff working at Lake Mead
Members of LCR dive team preparing for work
A member of the LCR dive team looks out over the lake
Published on August 28, 2017