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Tuesday, August 5

UPDATED: Did a draconian $500/day fine for wasting water in California cause two big water main breaks in LA? Water Crisis Gordian Knot, Part 13

UPDATE
The draconian fine went into effect July 29, not August 1.  Does this overturn my point?

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The water crisis, which is almost global in nature, has many parts.....

"Much of [American] drinking water infrastructure is nearing the end of its useful life."
-- American Society of Civil Engineers

"[T]he country has reached a point where vast lengths of pipe are wearing out at about the same time, said Greg Kail of the nonprofit American Water Works Association."

"In Los Angeles, a million feet of piping has been delivering water for at least 100 years."

"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 amount of water spilled could serve more than 100,000 Los Angeles Department of Water and Power customers for a day."

"In 2009, several dozen breaks [in L.A.] -- one that sent up a gusher the size of Old Faithful -- flooded streets. There was disagreement on the cause, but one independent investigation found the culprit was a city law that rationed lawn watering for conservation. With residents restricted to watering only two days a week, pressure fluctuated in the city's water system, straining aging and corroded cast iron pipes until they burst, it concluded."

The above quotes are from a very informative CBS News/Associated Press report on two water main breaks in Los Angeles last week; the report provides considerable background on the city's water pipe situation, so I'm featuring a big chunk of the report later in this post.

From a July Los Angeles Times report headlined California approves big fines for wasting water during drought:
California emergency rule allows cities to restrict outdoor watering
Local agencies may be given power to fine water-wasters $500 a day
L.A. and Long Beach already have mandatory water restrictions because of drought; other cities may follow soon

Cities throughout California will have to impose mandatory restrictions on outdoor watering under an emergency state rule approved Tuesday.Saying that it was time to increase conservation in the midst of one of the worst droughts in decades, the State Water Resources Control Board adopted drought regulations that give local agencies the authority to fine those who waste water up to $500 a day.

Many Southern California cities, including Los Angeles, Santa Barbara and Long Beach, already have mandatory restrictions in place.

But most communities across the state are still relying on voluntary conservation, and Californians in general have fallen far short of meeting Gov. Jerry Brown’s January call for a 20% cut in water use.

The emergency rules, expected to take effect Aug. 1, don’t order cities to slash water use by a certain amount. Rather they direct agencies to — at a minimum — ban wasteful practices such as allowing runoff from outdoor sprinklers, hosing down driveways and sidewalks and using drinking water in ornamental fountains that don’t recirculate.
It just so happens that the day before the draconian $500/day was to go into effect, there was a large water main break in Los Angeles, and two days earlier there was a massive one.  According to Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, who gave a press conference yesterday on the water main breaks, the worst of the two ruptures was because of a "poorly engineered" pipe joint dating to the 1950s; that according to a Los Angeles Times report headlined Garcetti on UCLA water main break: "This will not be the last one"

But from the last of the AP/CBS quotes I featured above, it seems to me that big fluctuations in pressure caused by a sharp increase  in water usage ahead of the announced $500/day fine might have caused the "poorly engineered" pipe joint to give way -- and also another water main break two days later. 

In any case, California officials have known for years that the water pipes in Los Angeles were in such bad shape that any big fluctuations in water pressure could lead to massive water main breaks. Yet still Sacramento ordered draconian water conservation measures throughout the state, punishable by a whopping fine of $500/day for violations.

Of course the two big water main breaks in LA could have been entirely unrelated to the looming fine regime.  But it does raise a question.   

Only about 2-4 percentage of water use in California is from individuals.  Much of the rest -- I've seen an estimate as high as 93 percent -- is used by agriculture.  And it's also in agriculture that the biggest water waste is in the state.

But the city of Los Angeles isn't farmland.  Why, then, extend the draconian water use restrictions to the city and its fragile pipe system?  Where massive water main ruptures could wipe out water savings from using spray nozzles on garden hoses, not hosing sidewalks, etc.?

Or is the point to collect enough revenue from the $500 fines to start work on replacing decrepit pipes? What is certain is that Mayor Garcetti doesn't want to raise taxes at this time for water pipe repairs. To return to the LA Times report on his presser:
[...] Reacting to criticism that city leaders have been loath to take the unpopular step of hiking rates that could raise revenue for repairs, Garcetti said he had voted for rate increases in the past. However, he stood by his earlier promise to not increase water or electricity rates this year, saying the city first needed to restore trust in the DWP after a billing problem that caused erroneous or inflated bills for some ratepayers.

The city has boosted its budgeted spending to maintain or replace water mains from $82 million to $112 million between 2011 and 2014, according to the mayor's office." [...]
If the city is going to drag its feet about raising more revenue for replacing old pipes, could the water engineers work out a way to take pressure, and big fluctuations in water pressure, off the aged pipes?  
Might not be possible but I want to ask the question in case there's a water engineer in the house.

Another question I have is whether it's counterproductive to sharply curtail or cut out watering trees and shrubs in the city during hot weather.  I saw a headline at Google that mentioned just that issue, although I didn't stop to read the op-ed.  I would even question whether L.A. homeowners should stop watering their lawns. The large number of brown patches can now been seen from NASA satellites.

Doesn't all that brown (and dead/dying trees and shrubbery) cut into sopping up carbon dioxide?

All right, that's enough questions.  I think my allover point is that during a crisis government administrations can go for spectacular acts, to show they're doing something.  Not all the acts are well thought out, and I wonder if this is the case with directing draconian water restrictions at Los Angeles because nobody knows how long the drought will wear on. Killing off a lot of greenery in that case in a city like LA and not thinking through the possible consequences of a draconian fine don't sound to me like good ideas.. 

Now on to the AP/CBS report. See the website for links in the text:
     
Another water main ruptures in Los Angeles
CBS/APJuly 31, 2014, 9:31 AM

LOS ANGELES -- Crews were working to repair another water main break Thursday in the wake of Tuesday's rupture of a pipeline that spewed more than 20 million gallons of water, CBS Los Angeles reports.
The pipe broke around midnight in the Eagle Rock neighborhood, the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power said.

It was unclear what caused the pipe to rupture.

Tuesday's rupture of a nearly century-old water main ripped a 15-foot hole through Sunset Boulevard and turned a swath of the University of California, Los Angeles, into a mucky mess.

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 association of water companies says nearly half of the pipes in the U.S. are in poor shape, and the average age of a broken water main is 47 years. In Los Angeles, a million feet of piping has been delivering water for at least 100 years.

When taps are running and swimming pools are brimming, no one pays attention to water lines, typically invisible underground. But the country has reached a point where vast lengths of pipe are wearing out at about the same time, said Greg Kail of the nonprofit American Water Works Association.

"Water pipes last a long, long time, but they don't last forever," he said. "There is a lot of pipe in the ground and there is an enormous expense, collectively, in replacing it."

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 nearly century-old pipe was still gushing 1,000 gallons a minute Wednesday afternoon, but it was shut off completely by 9 p.m., some 30 hours after it stopped flowing, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power spokesman Albert Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez says workers had a giant inflatable plug at the ready to stop the flow, but it wasn't needed. Repairs were expected to take until Friday night or Saturday morning.

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 amount of 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 pipe must be dry for repair work to begin, but on Wednesday, leaky valves above the break allowed water to continue seeping in. Shutting off valves and pipes creates the risk of more ruptures in the 7,200-mile system, especially on hilly areas in and around campus.

The reputation of Los Angeles for producing the next new things in style and culture doesn't extend to its creaky infrastructure. The city is decades behind in repairs to cratered streets and sidewalks, and some of its water lines have been around so long that William Mulholland could have seen them going in.

Mulholland is the father of the Los Angeles Aqueduct, completed in 1913, that brings in water from 200 miles away and reshaped Los Angeles from a parched railhead into the nation's second most populous city.
Recent years have seen a series of pipe breaks that have prompted promises to expand repairs and replacements. There's been talk of a water rate increase to speed the work. [Pundita note:  From Garcetti's presser, it was just talk]

In 2009, several dozen breaks -- one that sent up a gusher the size of Old Faithful - flooded streets.
There was disagreement on the cause, but one independent investigation found the culprit was a city law that rationed lawn watering for conservation. With residents restricted to watering only two days a week, pressure fluctuated in the city's water system, straining aging and corroded cast iron pipes until they burst, it concluded.

Cast iron pipes make up 65 percent of the city's water distribution system.

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, into a mucky mess.
[...]
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