San Diego

Water Main Breaks Put Spotlight on City's Aging Pipe Network, Slow Replacement Process

The city of San Diego had no immediate plans to replace two water mains, 62 and 76 years old, that broke Sunday and caused massive flooding and traffic in the downtown area

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San Diego’s aging infrastructure, specifically its underground network of water and wastewater pipes, is in the spotlight once again after two water main breaks blocks away from each other in the downtown area left behind a thousand-gallon mess on Interstate 5 and surface streets.

The city has been working to repair its roughly 6,000 miles of underground piping, but some say it’s not happening fast enough.

Attorney Evan Walker has sued the city multiple times on behalf of home and business owners whose properties have been damaged or impacted by similar flooding incidents.

Walker says the city needs to expedite its water main replacement process.

He recently settled a 2018 suit over a 30-inch, cast-iron main that broke in North Park and flooded streets and homes nearby.

“Unfortunately, what we’re seeing from these lawsuits is the city of San Diego apparently takes a wait until it breaks policy to a lot of its water main breaks. And unfortunately for my clients and people affected the break happens then the city decides to step in and say, ‘Oh my gosh. We need to fix it.’"

According to Mayor Todd Gloria, the pipes that ruptured Sunday were a 62-year-old concrete pipe and a 76-year-old cast iron pipe. Despite their age, they weren't scheduled to be replaced as part of the city's ongoing capital improvement plan to replace all cast iron pipes with PVC.

NBC 7's Priya Sridhar spoke with residents about how they're dealing with water service issues following the main breaks.

“We have very old pipes,” Mayor Gloria said. “I can recall when I was a city councilmember a number of years ago a pipe just a few blocks from here that was over 100 years old that failed. So we have very old pipes. I think it’s safe to say the tax payers got their money’s worth out of this infrastructure. We have to invest and improve them.”

Sunday’s breaks and the flooding that persisted throughout Monday hurt profits for businesses like the Shell gas station at 1011 A Street.

Water came pouring into the lot and seeped into the pump system.

“It gets down into the gas pumps and it shuts everything off, so we had no choice but to shut the whole station down,” Gas station owner Karen Brown said.

As for homeowners, Walker says if they don’t have flood insurance they may not be covered for damages.

That impact on businesses and people is why Walker says the city’s replacement plans need to be expedited.

“The city needs to take a more proactive and effective approach to replacing its aging infrastructure. I know there are a lot of pipes in the ground, but there are a lot of old pipes that need to be replaced and we see evidence of that tonight,” Walker said.

Gloria, like mayors across the state and country, are still waiting to see how much money from the massive infrastructure bill will make its way to San Diego.

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