The issue date on Nouri’s Water & Wastes Engineering article? December 1978.

More recently, Nouri designed much of the award-winning, $19 million Horno basin and riverine system in Ladera Ranch, where water from thousands of homes flows downhill before making a sharp left into a flat area of concrete and vanishing under a wall. On the other side of the wall, a series of natural ponds staggered downhill captures and filters the runoff. The 22-acre system, which can also handle heavy rains and floods, has won awards from engineering organizations.

As Nouri clears his throat, a slide on an overhead projector indicates this presentation is dedicated to “Vito A. Vanon, 1904-1999.”

John Gilhooley
Hasan Nouri stands before the watershed he had a plan to fix in 1982
John Gilhooley
Hasan Nouri stands before the watershed he had a plan to fix in 1982

“He was the best friend I had—and the best teacher I had,” Nouri informs the 50 or so people seated before him. He then explains how the National Geographic Channel invited him and other engineering experts to share ways they would redesign Hoover Dam, which is hailed as the eighth wonder of the world and a triumph of civil engineering, given what they know now.

“We must divert sediment,” says Nouri, who goes on to advocate a strategy the Japanese developed at Asahi Dam, where a tunnel was constructed upstream in 1997 to capture sediment, snake it around the dam and dump it farther downstream.

Nouri wields his laser pointer like it’s a lightsaber as he announces, “A football field of sediment was passed by this diversion tunnel” and calls on Hoover operators to follow the Asahi lead.

He receives polite claps.

*     *     *

As mints are dispersed to indicate the end of a pleasant lunch, Nouri drops a bombshell. He will close Rivertech and take a new job with URS Corp., a global engineering, construction and technical-services company with 350 offices worldwide, as manager of their Storm Drain Group in Santa Ana. He’s finally met an environmental condition his designs can’t mitigate: “the bad business climate.” But Nouri’s lunch mates are not even allowed to wallow in their sympathies because on the way out of King’s Fish House Nouri runs into a fellow he recognizes from the previous Sunday at Saddleback Church, where anti-Proposition 8 demonstrators interrupted entry into services.

Nouri realizes he has something to give members of his burgeoning entourage. Walking to the back of his silver Mercedes with an “Ed Royce for Congress” sticker affixed to the back bumper, he opens the trunk and pulls out invitations to IOC’s Nov. 15 Unveiling Hope Gala at a Costa Mesa hotel and informational sheets for a Feb. 22, 1997, IOC-sponsored symposium at UC Irvine titled “Global Benefits Through Establishment of Peace in Afghanistan.”

Always multitasking and surprisingly upbeat.

“Because of ignorance, we had Sept. 11,” Nouri tells me. “But there also used to be no classes in Farsi at American universities. Now, not only is Farsi taught, but those classes are overflowing, too. It is amazing how quickly this nation is learning.”

The news out of Afghanistan has not been promising since that lunch date. The top commander of U.S. and NATO troops in Afghanistan said Dec. 7 a “tough fight” is coming there in 2009 and more than double as many troops will be needed for up to four years. The Taliban last week spurned Karzai’s offer for peace talks and demanded the U.S. and NATO leave before next year’s elections. Groups inside Afghanistan prefer the elections be overseen by independent Muslim countries.

“That is a dream for the Muslim countries to manage Afghanistan,” Nouri wrote the Weekly by e-mail. But Muslims have tried to convert and politically influence Afghans for more than a thousand years to no avail; Islam only took hold after Afghans introduced it themselves, he wrote, before quoting his own testimony to Congress in 1996: “For a government to succeed in Afghanistan, it must not have the allegiance to a foreign power or nation.”

“Therefore, if we can help establish such a government, we do not need to be there,” he concluded. “We are learning now, and I think Obama’s administration might be able to do that.”

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