L.A.’s Aging Water Pipes, A $1-Billion Dilemma

March 27, 2015

The water main break that flooded Nowita Place in 2013 wasn’t the kind of spectacle that brought TV cameras. Water sprayed a foot in the air through a hole in the buckled asphalt, leaving residents in the Venice neighborhood without water service for hours.

But the break fit an increasingly common pattern for L.A.’s aging waterworks: The pipe was more than 80 years old. It was rusted out. And it was buried in corrosive soil.

About one-fifth of the city’s water pipes were installed before 1931 and nearly all will reach the end of their useful lives in the next 15 years. They are responsible for close to half of all water main leaks, and replacing them is a looming, $1-billion problem for the city.

“We must do something about our infrastructure and we must make the necessary investment,” said H. David Nahai, former head of the Department of Water and Power. “If we don’t act now, we’ll simply pay more later.”

By the numbers

6,730 – Miles of pipe in the DWP water main network

435 – Miles of deteriorated water mains that DWP wants to replace, about 6.5% of the network

$1.34 billion – Cost to replace at-risk water mains by 2025

$44 million – Annual average amount DWP has spent on pipe replacement in the last eight fiscal years

$135 million – Annual spending needed to reach 10-year pipe replacement goal

Source: Los Angeles Department of Water and Power

The DWP has a $1.3-billion plan to replace 435 miles of deteriorating pipe in the next 10 years, but difficult questions remain about how the agency will find the money, how much it will inconvenience commuters and whether the utility can ever catch up with its aging infrastructure. http://graphics.latimes.com/la-aging-water-infrastructure/

To reach its goal by 2025, the DWP would need to more than double the number of pipe miles it replaces annually and more than triple the average amount it spends on pipe replacement each year. Water officials said the department has already budgeted $78 million for water main replacement in the current fiscal year, a significant increase from its annual average.

Future funding for the plan will depend on a combination of higher water rates, bond sales and other department revenue. Getting city leaders to approve higher water rates that the agency says it needs could require political maneuvering as the DWP deals with a standoff between city leaders and two nonprofit trusts over $40 million the agency gave to the organizations. The department is also rebounding from a billing scandal in late 2013.

“Like the average rate-payer, I will have to be shown the case” for an increase, Mayor Eric Garcetti said, “but I’m interested in not burying my head on this problem.”