When water mains break. The “Super Bowl” effect?

Posted on | September 8, 2009 | 1 Comment

49127783-080816409/19/2009 UPDATE After weeks of leaks in LA’s water mains, there are too many to count off one by one. Instead, the Los Angeles Times now has a map of breaks. Click here to see if you can expect treated potable water to burst through a street sinkhole near you. Elsewhere in the Times reporter Jessica Garrison finds experts who wonder if the problem isn’t pressure changes resulting from two-day-week water rationing?

I hate to say that I wondered it first, because Garrison, her quotable experts, and others at the Times no doubt wondered it early on too. The idea is as old the joke about what happens to city plumbing during Super Bowl commercials.

When questioned by myself and others from the June outset of the two-day-week lawn watering ordinance about the effect of changing pressure on city pipes, the Department of Water and Power insisted that its pipes could take it. As the stock response went, the spikes and troughs in demand would allow them to read most clearly how much water was being conserved.

An aside: Pity the General Manager sent out by his technical people with that response if the technical people were wrong.

To DWP’s delight, it chocked up nearly 20% savings.

Then the pipes started breaking at an unusually fast rate. Some put total loss to leaks in Los Angeles as high as 10% in normal times, without the Super Bowl effect.

So, a question: If you lose 10% of your water through leaks and save 20% through two-day watering ordinances, and leaks are sprouting across the system because of aging infrastructure, what can you do?

Spreading out watering days while shortening allowable watering times might be one answer, but it would be harder to enforce and might usher in general back-sliding.

What else could the department do to speed up its routine program of replacing aging pipes?

Raise prices. The problem here? It causes people to scream about their bills when they are not screaming about the leaks.

For Steve Greenberg’s cartoon Drip Happens at LA Observed, click here.

For LADWP updates and contacts, click here.

This page has been updated.


One Response to “When water mains break. The “Super Bowl” effect?”

  1. Nate
    September 9th, 2009 @ 11:13 am

    Wonderful. Perhaps if we didn’t pay so many fire fighters six figures in over time, there would be money to maintain water mains.

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