News Feature | July 22, 2015

‘Slew' Of Broken Water Mains Sends Message To L.A.

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Water infrastructure in Los Angeles made national headlines last July when a massive water main break on UCLA's campus posed a danger to students. The rupture "ended up spilling 20 million gallons and flooding a huge swath of the campus," Curbed Los Angeles reported.

"Los Angeles's aged water infrastructure, usually hidden under the streets and sidewalks, occasionally hits center stage," the report said.

This summer, the problem has hit center stage again, after “a slew” of water mains all broke in a single day this month, ABC 7 reported. The ruptures flooded streets, stopped traffic, and trapped some residents in their homes.

The events this year may serve as one more sign that the city’s infrastructure is old and crumbling. "The root problem is L.A.'s old pipes and how many of them are past due to be replaced with new ones," according to the Los Angeles Times.

On July 9, a rupture near Los Angeles City College shut Southbound Vermont Avenue and Melrose Avenue in two directions.

“Surrounding businesses and homes were affected, with water flooding an underground parking garage on New Hampshire Avenue. Some area residents were seen wading through gushing water to reach dry ground, while others were trapped in their apartments,” ABC 7 reported.

The 12-inch cast-iron pipe that burst was installed in 1929. “LADWP officials said the pipe was considered in grade D condition - the only level worse is grade F. Still, it was not listed on the five-year replacement schedule,” the report said.

The same day saw two other water mains burst. A 36-inch water main “sent a river of water onto the roadways” in the Lake View Terrace area, the report said. And “a third ruptured water main created a watery mess near the intersection of Melrose Avenue and Gower Street.”

Water main breaks in L.A. fit an “increasingly common pattern,” according to the Los Angeles Times: A pipe is “more than 80 years old. It [is] rusted out. And it [is] buried in corrosive soil.”

Fixing all the aging water mains in Los Angeles would cost $1 billion. About 20 percent of the city's water pipes were put in place in the 1920s or earlier. Of these, almost all will be due for replacement in the next 15 years, the Times reported.

Still, bursting a pipe can sometimes help utilities collect data about where repairs are needed.

"As silly as it might sound, we do need leaks in the system in order to help us assess which pipes need to be replaced next," explained John Cox, the LADWP water utilities superintendent.

For Cox’s team, such data has improved the utility’s track record.

“They said their leak rate has been cut in half over the past decade from an average of six per day to three,” according to ABC 7.

For more stories about maintaining infrastructure, visit Water Online’s Asset Management Solutions Center.