Waterless World

A Global Water Crisis Forum

Exploding Pipes in the City of Angels

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The infrastructure of the U.S. has been in severe need of investment for more than 30 years and the estimated cost of finally doing something about it continues to grow. American cities have a huge challenge directly ahead of them to continue to reliably deliver clean water to their constituents. This story from Bloomberg on Los Angeles is but one example.

Los Angeles is showing its age, and city officials don’t have plans for financing the facelift.

From buckling sidewalks to potholed thoroughfares to storm drains that can’t handle a little rain, the infrastructure that holds the second-largest U.S. city together is suffering from years of deferred maintenance. Bringing pipes that deliver water to 3.9 million people up to snuff could cost $4 billion — more than half the city’s annual operating budget. The bill for repaving streets will be almost that much, according to estimates from a city consultant, and patching or replacing cracked sidewalks will require $640 million.

“We’re in trouble,” said Jack Humphreville, the budget advocate for L.A.’s advisory neighborhood councils. His estimate, based on figures provided by the city, is that getting public works into good shape will take $10 billion to $15 billion. “This is no different from debt.”

A 30-foot geyser that spewed some 20 million gallons of water from a ruptured trunk line under Sunset Boulevard on July 29 brought renewed attention to the decay. The council called on the Department of Water and Power to scrutinize pipelines and other parts of the system, but didn’t discuss ways of finding money to fix what might be broken.

The riveted-steel line that burst under Sunset is 90 years old. To replace every line by the time it hits 100 — as many engineers recommend — would require a 4 percent boost in water rates every year, according to City Councilman Paul Koretz.

Many cities and states are in the same rusty boat, having put off investing in bridges, wastewater systems, dams and other public works that need regular maintenance and upgrades. The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the country would have to spend $3.6 trillion to get the nation’s infrastructure in decent working order by 2020.

The systems that treat and distribute drinking water in the U.S. need $384 billion in upgrades over the next 20 years, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, while the National Association of Water Companies says the bill for California is $74 billion.

New York City has 6,800 miles of water mains and is spending about $716 million on capital improvements this year, while L.A. has 7,225 miles and spends $766 million annually, according to statistics from the two cities.

About 240 miles of L.A.’s pipes are more than a century old. The utility replaces only about 18 miles of pipe per year rather than the 34 miles officials called for in 2012.

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