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Century-old pipe break points to national problem

LOS ANGELES (AP) -- The rupture of a nearly century-old water main that ripped a 15-foot hole through Sunset Boulevard and turned a swath of the University of California, Los Angeles into a mucky swamp points to the risks and expense many cities face with miles of water lines installed decades ago.

Much of the piping in the country dates to the first half of the previous century, with some installed even before Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.

Age can take a toll. There are 240,000 breaks a year, according to the National Association of Water Companies. a problem compounded by stress from an increasing population and budget crunches that slow the pace of replacement.

The group says 45 percent of water pipes in the U.S. are in poor shape, and the average age of a broken water main is 47 years.

UCLA Broken Water Pipe Floods Parts Of Campus

In Los Angeles, a million feet of piping has been delivering water for at least 100 years, officials say.

When taps are running and swimming pools are brimming, no one pays attention to water lines, typically invisible underground.

But with the passage of time the country has reached a point where vast amounts of piping is wearing out at about the same time, said Greg Kail of the nonprofit American Water Works Association.

"Water pipes last a long, long time but they don't last forever," he notes. "There is a lot of pipe in the ground and there is an enormous expense, collectively, in replacing it."

The 30-inch pipe that burst Tuesday near UCLA sent a 30-foot geyser into the air that eventually sent at least 8 million gallons of water onto campus in the midst of California's worst drought in decades. Repairs could take days.

At one point, water was gushing out of the break in the riveted steep pipe at a rate of 75,000 gallons a minute. The amount of water spilled could serve more than 52,500 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers for a day.

The pipe had been worked on before. While the cause of the break remained under investigation, Mike Miller, a district superintendent for the city Department of Water and Power, said the crack occurred near a connection where the 93-year-old water main joined a pipe installed in 1956.

The pipe must be dry for repair work to begin, but on Wednesday leaky valves above the break allowed water to continue seeping in. Shutting off valves and pipes creates the risk of more ruptures in the 7,200-mile system, especially on hilly areas in and around campus.

The reputation of Los Angeles for producing the next new thing in style and culture doesn't extend to its creaky infrastructure. The city is decades behind in repairs to cratered streets and sidewalks and some of its water lines have been around so long that William Mulholland could have seen them going in.

Mulholland is the father of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, that brings in water from 200 miles away and spawned a development boom that birthed the nation's second most populous city.

Recent years have seen a series of pipe breaks that have prompted promises to speed up repairs and pipe replacements. There's been talk of a water rate increase to speed the work.

In 2009, several dozen breaks - one that sent up a gusher the size of Old Faithful - flooded streets.

There was disagreement on the cause but one independent investigation found the culprit was a city law that rationed lawn watering for conservation. With residents restricted to watering only two days a week, pressure fluctuated in the city's water system, straining aging and corroded cast iron pipes until they burst, it concluded.

Cast iron pipes make up 65 percent of the city's water distribution system.

The UCLA flood left people stranded in parking garages and sent water cascading into the school's storied basketball court, Pauley Pavilion, less than two years after a $132 million renovation.

Despite the rupture, no utility customers were without water. No injuries were reported.

UCLA officials said six facilities were damaged. The flooding hit the part of campus that is home to its athletic facilities, with the greatest danger coming in a pair of parking structures that quickly began filling with water.

More than 730 vehicles were in two subterranean garages that flooded, and about half the vehicles were totally submerged, UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez said.

Many students took the flooding in stride, walking calmly across campus with their backpacks in ankle-deep water.

Post-doctoral student George Saddik stood Wednesday outside one of the garages where his SUV was parked on the bottom level.

Saddik, who had to spend the night at the home of a brother-in-law, said he was less concerned about his vehicle than about how he would commute to his home 50 miles away.

"I have insurance so I'm not sweating it," he said.

Join the discussion

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William July 30 2014 at 10:22 PM

California.....every bit as good as any third world country.
Same politics
Same attitude
Same leadership

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4 replies
ExplorerFl July 30 2014 at 11:38 PM

Okay. Some of the pipes are old. So tell me why this isn't in the LA Times instead of on a national[ news network?
It's a local problem. But, LA is a "progressive" city filled with more takers than producers so my senses tell me they're looking for a handout from the fed. gov't, who, by the way, is in hock to the tune of 18Trillion.
Let them drink Coke.

Flag Reply +7 rate up
3 replies
tazgadon July 30 2014 at 10:00 PM

Maybe they can divert the, "War On Drugs Money"...from Weed Pipes to Water Pipes.

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1 reply
junior tazgadon July 31 2014 at 12:11 PM

Maybe they should use the tax money already collected for repairs instead of putting it in the pockets of the union bosses.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
eb50tj July 30 2014 at 11:28 PM

The Govt. should N O T have to or be forced to contribut to the degraded utilities. WHAT DID THEY DO WITH 99 years of P R O F I T S???? Certainly not maintainence! Now when they fail, the consumer again gets to foot the bill with higher costs/ utility bills. And the "public utilities commission" lets them raise the rates to whatever they want. Here in Northeast PA, our phone lines suck, water lines suck,sewer system suck, electric is not too bad NOW that some updates are being done, and my cable is almost never off. We get a new road or an old one paved, the asphalt isn't even cooled off, and one or more is ripping it back up to do a half assed "repair"... Just my rant, how true it is...

Flag Reply +5 rate up
3 replies
Robby July 30 2014 at 11:25 PM


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1 reply
alohalise Robby July 31 2014 at 8:42 AM

the only thing keeping America unhealthy is stupid bigots like you, why don't you go back to your trailer and staple some more teabags to your baseball cap? There is a meeting tonight, no need for your white KKK robe, the teabags will get you in.

Flag Reply 0 rate up
2 replies
Steve alohalise July 31 2014 at 10:10 AM

obama assures that once we move South America into the United States, we will achieve the Third World status that will make us prosperous. Evidently you are not a bigot and agree with the idiot of destroying America.

Flag +2 rate up
welcome eric alohalise July 31 2014 at 1:22 PM

Becuase someone is concerned with illegal imigration that makes them a bigot? Are you serious, or do you just throw down the race card as standard procedure for your arguments?

Flag 0 rate up
flyingfortresb17 July 30 2014 at 10:29 PM

No they don't last forever so they need inspection twice a year to make sure they are working properly and there is no thinning of the walls or minor detectable leaks. 99 year old line should have been replaced 50 years ago when Los Angeles was smaller and the money was there.

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4 replies
cheese622 July 31 2014 at 9:39 AM

Wasn't that huge stimulas package suppose to pay for all those shovel ready projects the president told us all it would fix infrastructure across the country with good old joe biden at the head to watch over how our money was being spent?

Flag Reply +4 rate up
2 replies
Randy cheese622 July 31 2014 at 9:42 AM

Another scam by the far left... "they promised" is an oxymoron when it comes to liberals - the vast majority of those borrowed dollars went to buy union thug votes (and probably pay for the buses they used to haul "voters" to the polls).

Flag Reply +1 rate up
Steve cheese622 July 31 2014 at 10:21 AM

cheese, it helped build off-shore accounts for all the Statists that had their hands in Uncle Sams pocket. Screw the taxpayer, they needed addition pension money.

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generalsnafu July 30 2014 at 11:07 PM

What's wrong with you people? You have to decide what you prefer our government spends our tax dollars on. What will it be, repairing our crumbling infrastructure, or starting a few more wars? You can't have both.

Fixing our infrastructure will only serve the taxpayers. More wars, will benefit those who will in turn contribute campaign money to those who take us into these wars.

Flag Reply +4 rate up
2 replies
alohalise generalsnafu July 31 2014 at 8:48 AM

Bingo, we have today's winner, you have written the best post of the week, please collect your prize at the door.

Your prize today is a ticket to the defense department convention sponsored by Halliburton, Boeing, Hughes,and Northrup, you will receive, FOR FREE,

Two of the unusable fighter jets, purchased by the DOD for 48 billion dollars, it won't fly, but it looks so cool parked in your driveway, brand new, never used. please keep your children away, do not turn the key to start it.............


Flag Reply 0 rate up
Randy generalsnafu July 31 2014 at 9:37 AM

Maybe if the funds that had been paid by the consumers (water, sewer, gas, electricity) had gone to maintain and replace the infrastructure had actually been used as it was intended there would not be "crumbling infrastructure"? Did you know 70% of the cost of operations of an urban public transportation system are funded from the taxes paid by motorists on fuel - allegedly to pay the cost of building and maintaining roads - not subsidizing the ride of some commuter to the urban concrete ghetto?

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Randy July 31 2014 at 9:23 AM

What the breaks indicate is PATHETICALLY POOR MANAGEMENT by those the taxpayers have hired and/or elected to operate the various functions of government.

In the private sector, every manager knows they must plan for replacement of aging equipment not put band aids on them when the breakdown and hope the band aid holds. There have been hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars intended for infrastructure which have been diverted to "touchy feely" projects to buy votes... funds that went to create bicycle lanes/paths to fancy light shows on bridges that should have been used to maintain and or build roads and bridges. 100's of billions generated from taxes on motor vehicle fuels that were diverted to subsidize the fares for taxpayer provided transportation (buses, subways, elevated trains and commuter trains) which were intended for federal highways and bridges. It is not a lack of funds for infrastructure - its from not collecting from the leeches.

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Kate July 30 2014 at 10:53 PM

Gosh, how ironic: rationing could have caused the ruptures? Well, that is, anything could have at any time, of course, but I'm in CA too, and could weep at the thought of all that water flooding the whole friggin' area.

It isn't L.A. alone that has a 'creaky' infrastructure, and I resent the implication that it is-- the whole darn country needs attention.

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1 reply
lizgonzales8186 Kate July 31 2014 at 12:42 AM

Yes! Why do you think the President has been trying to propose work programs that would fix these infrastructure problems? Of course Congress has stopped those proposals at every turn. That's why we pay taxes, to take care of our infrastructure.

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3 replies
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