Repeat water line breaks on La Jolla street raise concerns about infrastructure

Did you know?

■ Replacement of 11,676 feet of water main in downtown La Jolla is expected to begin in January at a cost of $4.5 million. It will include sections of Coast Blvd., Prospect St., Ivanhoe Ave. and Exchange Place.

Water Emergency Hotline

■ (619) 515-3525

■ Open 24/7 for reporting water emergencies such as water main breaks, service leaks, valve leaks, hydrant knockovers, high line leaks, and pressure problems.

■ This hotline takes calls and dispatches crews to investigate and/or fix problems.

By Pat Sherman

The city began emergency replacement of 1,500 feet of underground water line on Country Club Drive this week, following three breaks in the past 30 days, the most recent of which, on Nov. 2, sent water gushing down the street, flooding a home in the 7100 block of Country Club Drive.

According to Stan Medina, deputy director of San Diego’s Public Utilities Department, the city paid the owner of the home $400,000 in damages after a previous water main break in the same section of Country Club Drive flooded the home in 2010.

The city’s risk management department and other city officials are working with the owner and his insurance company to negotiate reimbursement for the current flood damage.

“As a precaution to prevent further main breaks, we’re replacing 1,500 feet … going beyond (the problem area) in each direction quite a bit just to make sure that we don’t go in there and replace 300 feet, and then on the 400th foot we have another blowout and the guy gets flooded out again,” Medina said. “From what we’ve investigated and determined, the city is liable for

damages to their property. We want to reimburse them fully. We don’t want them to take us to court and sue us for additional money.”

Medina said there have actually been five breaks in the past five years to the water line beneath Country Club Drive, which is comprised of a concrete and asbestos material called Transite — the industry standard when the line was installed in 1953 (today’s lines are made of high-strength PVC pipe).

Though Medina said the reason for the water main breaks on Country Club is still being investigated, they have each occurred at joints where sections of pipe connect — about every 13 feet, he said.

Because of the street’s curvature, installation of the pipes was designed to follow the contour of Country Club Drive, and the joints had to be deflected.

“Based on my experience and knowledge, the stress on the joints is just not holding out anymore,” Medina said, noting that high water pressure has been ruled out as a factor in the breaks.

When joints fail, they are completely removed, and about two feet of pipe is cut from both sides of the break, and new pipe spliced in with couplings, he said.

“This is probably one of the first projects that we’ve ever taken on as an emergency replacement because of consistency of joint blowouts,” Medina said.

At a breaking point

Though the frequency of breaks on Country Club seems to be an anomaly, an increasing amount of breaks, sinkholes, flooding and subsequent repairs are something residents should expect — unless the city can get ahead of its aging infrastructure and replace it in time.

Medina says the city is trying to do that through its capital improvement projects program. Replacement of approximately 11,676 linear feet of water main in downtown La Jolla is expected to begin in January of 2014, including sections of Coast Boulevard, Prospect Street, Ivanhoe Avenue and Exchange Place. The project has an estimated cost of $4.5 million.

The city is currently in the midst of a major push to replace what remains of its original cast iron water mains, some more than 100 years old, Medina said. The lines should be replaced by 2017.

Of 553 water main breaks that occurred in San Diego between 2008 and 2012, the majority occurred in cast iron lines installed in older communities like La Jolla, public utilities spokesperson Arian Collins said.

Citywide, there are still 84 miles of cast iron water distribution lines (those beneath city and residential streets), including 3.9 miles of cast iron distribution lines in La Jolla (or about 13.65 percent of La Jolla’s water lines).

In addition, citywide there are still 70 miles of cast iron transmission lines (which transport water between pumping stations and communities), and another mile of cast iron transmission line in La Jolla.

The city is also seeing an increasing number of breaks in concrete mains such as the one on Country Club Drive — most originally installed by developers, Collins said.

Medina said replacement of pipes depends on available funding and need.

“The engineers look at the age of the pipe, its condition, assessments and the history of a certain pipeline,” he said.