LOS ANGELES – 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 mess points to the risks and expense many cities face with miles of water lines installed generations ago.
The flooding sent more than 20 million gallons of water cascading from a water main in the midst of California's worst drought in decades and as tough new state fines took effect for residents who waste water by hosing down driveways or using a hose without a nozzle to wash their car.
Much of the piping that carries drinking water in the country dates to the first half of the 20th century, with some installed before Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House.
Age inevitably takes 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.
“Much of our drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life,” the American Society of Civil Engineers said in a report last year, noting that the cost of replacing pipes in coming decades could exceed $1 trillion.
The 30-inch pipe that burst Tuesday near UCLA shot a 30-foot geyser into the air that sent water down storm drains and onto campus. The pipe was still gushing 1,000 gallons a minute on Wednesday and officials said repairs could take another two days.
At its peak, water was gushing out of the break in the riveted steep pipe at a rate of 75,000 gallons a minute. The water spilled could serve more than 100,000 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 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 $136 million renovation.
UCLA Vice Chancellor Kelly Schmader said 8 to 10 inches of water covered the basketball court and it showed some signs of buckling. The floor will be repaired or replaced as necessary and will be ready by the start of the basketball season this fall, Athletic Director Dan Guerrero said.
UCLA officials said six facilities were damaged and about 960 vehicles remained trapped, with many totally submerged.