20 Million Gallons Later, Councilmen Want Answers from DWP

By City News Service

A pair of Los Angeles City Council members introduced a motion Wednesday calling for a report from the Department of Water and Power on the water main rupture Tuesday that flooded streets and inundated portions of the UCLA campus.

Twenty million gallons of water, double the original estimate was lost, the DWP reported Wednesday as utility crews struggled  to completely stop the 1,000 gallons per hour still leaking water near the 93-year-old water main.

Herb Wesson and Councilman Paul Koretz, whose district includes the Westwood area, instructs the DWP to report on the status and cause of Tuesday’s rupture and the water main’s operational history and any prior physical integrity issues.

It also calls for a report on the status of DWP’s water infrastructure program and whether the ruptured main had been scheduled for repair or upgrade; steps that can be taken to reduce any damage or impact on the public and surrounding property, such as technology that can give advance warning of ruptures; and a report on the utility’s long-term efforts to replace aging water system components and improve system reliability, including exploring a faster replacement schedule.

Koretz said the council wants to “take a look at the cause of this particular incident and also to take a broader look at whether we should speed up our process and by how much in terms of replacing our aging water infrastructure.”

“It’s been decades and decades of deferred maintenance,” he said, adding that a massive upgrade to the DWP infrastructure could cost about $4 billion, resulting in major rate hikes.

“So all this is a balance,” Koretz said.

The motion will likely be heard later this week in the Energy and Environment Committee, chaired by Councilman Felipe Fuentes, Wesson said.

He and other city leaders visited the site of the ruptured water main Wednesday afternoon to assess the extent of the damage, consider the next steps and discuss efforts to replace the city’s aging water-delivery infrastructure.

Wesson, who is acting mayor while Eric Garcetti is on vacation, joined fellow council members, DWP General Manager Marcie Edwards and UCLA Chancellor Gene Block to inspect the sinkhole and damaged pipe.

Wesson said he wanted to learn everything he can about the main break. He noted that the pipes are graded A-F based on their condition, and the one that broke may have been in the “C or D category.”

Even though the images of water gushing out of a hole in Sunset Boulevard were dramatic, “we can’t react to the way that it looked,” he said. The city will work to “secure the situation right now and make sure the plan we have moving forward makes sense.”

There also needs to be a “conversation” about how to “fast-track” repairs for this latest break and other water infrastructure improvements, he said.

Tuesday afternoon’s water main break got “a lot of attention” because it affected UCLA, occurred in an “affluent area” and caused “a lot of damage,” he said.

“Sometimes, out of chaos, you have opportunity,” Wesson said. “And I’m hopeful once we get all the details, there will be a path to do some positive things.”

In 2010, a research team led by Jean-Pierre Bardet, at the time chairman of the University of Southern California department of civil and environmental engineering, concluded that local conservations efforts had contributed to a 2009-10 rash of water main breaks in Los Angeles. Surges in water pressure, the result of twice-weekly watering restrictions, had caused surges in pressure in the system’s thousands of miles of pipes;  90% of the breaks were to cast iron pipes.

Bardet, now the director of the Urban Water Institute a the University of Texas at Arlington, said Wednesday that this latest break was not unexpected, given that many of the pipes across the city have been in use for more than 100 years.

Decades of exposure to corrosive materials have made the walls of the pipes “very brittle, he said.”

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July 31, 2014  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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