Waiting for the next Birdland

SAN DIEGO (KUSI) – There are miles and miles of cast iron water pipes in San Diego, just like the one that ruptured in Birdland earlier this week. Unless they’re replaced, every one has the potential to do just as much damage as the city’s infrastructure has not been a priority for years.

Like everything else, it’s all about the money. And annual increases in our water bills since 2007 hasn’t been enough.

“Short of getting more money into the system, which of course I would like to see as chairman of the council’s infrastructure committee,” said City Councilman Mark Kersey. “We’ve had deferred maintenance on our infrastructure citywide for far too long, and now we’re paying a price for that.”

City taxpayers shelled out $585 million over a three-year rate increase, starting in 2007, for water system repairs.

“A lot of the money went into the upgrades of the treatment plants,” said Arian Collins of Public Utilities. “That was mandatory because of new state regulations, so we needed to get those done. There was also a pump station that we had to replace.”

And other pump stations had to be upgraded. That limited the amount of money that went into replacing the old cast iron pipes, and we have nearly 100 miles of those still in the ground.

“We’ve got a schedule. We’ve (replaced) 28 miles of water mains this year alone, and did about 23 miles last year,” said Kersey.

That leaves upwards of 40 miles of cast iron pipe in the ground, and vulnerable to rupture. What happened in Birdland Wednesday could happen at any moment somewhere in the city.

“I don’t think we can salvage anything, you know, so that’s a loss right there, just a loss,” said Birdland resident Denise. “That’s why we’re out here waiting for it to stop so we can start our cleanup process.”

“I have friends and family that have worked for the water district,” said Birdland resident Tony Isabella. “They say they’re trying to bust their rear ends to get this cleaned up and get this done, but there’s no help, we’re getting no help from the government at all.”

“It seems like year after year a water main’s busted somewhere,” said Birdland resident Henry French. “We pay all these taxes but where do they go?”

There’s also a mixed message coming from the chair of the infrastructure committee and the official from the Public Utilities Department about how water pipes are assessed for damage.

“We know where those are,” said Kersey. “We do condition assessments where we snake little cameras down into the water mains so we can see where the potential cracks may occur, but, unfortunately it’s kind of a question of resources.”

The guy at Public Utilities says we don’t use cameras in water pipes because we’d have to shut off water, instead we wait for a leak.

“Different wear and tear on different pipes and so we look and see what kind of leaks are on pipes,” said Collins. “If there have been multiple breaks then we push those to the forefront if we think there’s a problem with that pipe.”

Public Utilities has repaired the broken pipe, now they wait to see if there are problems in other sections of that pipe, or if this was just an isolated incident.

Despite all the problems, the number of pipes bursting is trending in the right direction. 2004 was a peak year with 131 water pipe ruptures.In 2013, the number was down to 90.

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