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UCLA flood: DWP now says 20M gallons of water lost, leak still gushing

Blowers were brought in to dry out buildings at UCLA on Wednesday while city utility crews attempted to plug leaks that were preventing them from fixing a ruptured water main, which a day before dumped millions of gallons of water onto the streets and flooded portions of the campus. Meanwhile, the City Council introduced a motion that would seek funding to speed up the utility's replacement of aging water pipes. LADWP has estimated it would take more than 300 years to replace all the pipes at the current rate of spending.

Key updates

  • Approximately 20 million gallons lost in water main break
  • Sunset Boulevard remains closed
  • Water service has not been interrupted and water is safe to drink
  • Campus open and classes continue
  • UCLA summer camps and two childcare centers closed
  • Parking structures 4 and 7 closed
  • Pauley Pavilion's court was flooded and damages are being assessed
  • 739 vehicles submerged, damaged in parking structures; many owners contacted

Update 5:44 p.m. Why pipes can't be closed too quickly

Closing a pipe too quickly can cause problems, according to Lucio Soibelman, chair of USC's civil and environmental engineering department and an expert on pipeline integrity and pipeline ruptures.

“If you close the pipe too fast, you increase the pressure in the network in a way that you’d create several other breaks in other pipes in the network," Soibelman said.

"With the technology and the process that you have today, [three and a half hours is] not an unreasonable time" to shut off a main, Soibelman said.

What 20 million gallons means:

  • It's the amount of water that would fill 1,290,322 kegs (1 keg holds 58.6738827 liters)
  • By weight, it's equal to 34,750,000 copies of "Engineering Mechanics: Statistics & Dynamics 13th edition," which has a shipping weight of 4.8 pounds according to It's the textbook for Civil and Environmental Engineering 101 at UCLA. (1 gallon of water weighs 8.34 pounds)
  • LADWP spokeswoman Jane Galbraith says the rate of water for L.A. is 150 gallons for $1. That means the value of the lost water is $133,333.33 or just $561.33 more than the estimated cost for a California resident to go through four years at UCLA while living on campus ($132,772 according to UCLA's website)
  • The average per capita water usage in Los Angeles is 129 gallons/day. On 20 million gallons of water, one person could survive for 424.76 years (not accounting for leap years).

Jed Kim

Update 3:24 p.m. Estimate of lost water almost double that of initial estimates: 20 million gallons

Estimates of how much water was lost in Tuesday's water main break had been revised from 8-10 million gallons to almost 20 million gallons, Los Angeles Department of Water and Power senior manager Jim McDaniel said in an afternoon press conference with members of the L.A. City Council.

Water was still spilling at about 1,000 gallons per minute this afternoon, down from 4,000 gallons per minute earlier in the day, McDaniel said.

"In order to do the repairs, we need to have water even more fully shut off," McDaniel said, adding that the valves are also over 90 years old, which means they don't always work as intended.

"They had a very efficient pipe for almost 95 years," City Councilman Tom LaBonge told reporters. He said that traffic officers will be in the area to help traffic move along more easily, despite closures.

"Let me say this: That's one hell of a pothole," City Councilman Joe Buscaino said to reporters. "This reminds us on the critical need to invest in our critical infrastructure."

Buscaino cited broken pipes, sidewalks and other infrastructure problems, adding that they affect jobs, private investment and quality of life. He said the goal was to reopen Sunset Boulevard by Friday.

While the City Council is looking at a way to improve replacement rates, to improve system repair rates from every 300 years to a 100-year replacement rate would cost $4 billion and mean a huge increase to ratepayers, City Councilman Paul Koretz said.

Two lines were involved in the break, McDaniel said, with it happening at a Y joining them. He said that they'd also had to keep putting additional water through the lines while they were being closed in order to avoid contamination of the water supply.

"This is one of our bigger ruptures. This is definitely in the range of the Coldwater break," McDaniel said. The Coldwater break was in 2009.

The pipes in this case were both steel pipes, McDaniel said, with one an older riveted steel-style, while the other was welded.

L.A. uses an average of 550 million gallons per day, McDaniel said.

There are an average of three to four breaks in the water system per day, McDaniel said. He noted that the average number of breaks per year was down from five years ago by about 25 percent, from 20 breaks per 100 miles of pipe to 15 breaks per 100 miles of pipe.

He said that this reduction in the number of breaks was due to investment in repairs. There are currently $150 million in the budget for mainline pipe repair, McDaniel said.

The LADWP systematically goes through pipes and categorizes them based on factors including the type of material, pressure, history, potential for damage and how critical the customers being affected are, McDaniel said, in order to prioritize repairs.

There is no normal inspection program for underground pipes like this, McDaniel said. He said that many L.A. pipes were put in due to expansion in the 1920s, with another large number of pipes put in in the 1950s due to expansion into the San Fernando Valley.

The cause of this break is still unknown, McDaniel said, but that a lot of breaks are due to corrosion.

"We're wet. UCLA is very wet. But fortunately, for us at least, the flood is over," said UCLA Chancellor Gene Block. He said he hoped that the Pauley Pavilion floor could be repaired or replaced quickly and that they're still pumping water out of two garages.

When asked whether LADWP would pay for repairs at UCLA, McDaniel said that there is a normal claims process and declined to comment further.

"All the impact, unfortunately for UCLA, was at UCLA," Koretz said.

McDaniel said that conservation by residents wouldn't have had any affect related to this break.

Mike Roe

Update 2:59 p.m. Who pays for repairs following this break?

At UCLA, much of the water is mopped up and pumped out. But the damage remains. Wednesday's water main break raises a question students, staff and the university are starting ask: who pays?

After an almost century-old water main broke under Sunset Boulevard, what was originally estimated to be 8 to 10 million gallons of water and was later revised to approximately 20 million gallons rushed downhill — much of it right into two vast underground parking garages.
There were 739 cars submerged, including one belonging to UCLA staffer Manyee Lieu.
“It flooded all the way up the ceiling like a swimming pool," Lieu said. "They’re not letting anyone inside because there’s no electricity. It’s dark. They’re going to tow the cars out and let us claim the cars.”
Even though he won’t be able to see his car until Friday, Lieu knows it’s totaled.
“It’s gone. I saw a picture on Twitter," Lieu said, and "it was up to side-view mirrors of the cars, and the longer it’s there, the worse it’s going to be."
First-year grad student Jay Cho is more optimistic. He usually parks on the lowest level, where Lieu did, but on the day of the flood, he found a space on a higher level, where the pictures show only waist-high water.
“My hopes are up," Cho said. "But there’s no guarantee."
Both Cho and Lau have already contacted their insurance companies, which told them to send pictures of their damaged cars when they can.
For UCLA, that task is multiplied across all of the buildings that were damaged, including Pauley Pavillion, which was renovated two years ago at a cost of $136 million.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block says he doesn’t know how much fixing all the damage will cost — just that it will be a lot.
“These are big buildings and you just think about flooring and the repair of sheet rock and everything else, it could get substantial very quickly," Block said.
UCLA has a primary insurance policy, but that would only begin to cover the damage, which is why the school says the city should pay.
Block says that, as UCLA sees it, they did nothing wrong.
“We’re the victims here. We just happened to be nearby a pipe that broke," Block said.
A spokesman for the City Attorney's Office said he couldn’t comment.

Ben Bergman

Updated 1:02 p.m.: L.A. City Councilman Paul Koretz introduced a motion Wednesday asking the city to find funding sources that would speed up the Department of Water and Power's replacement of aging water pipes. Even though the DWP expects to spend $2 billion on infrastructure reliability over the next decade, it would take the utility more than 300 years to replace all of the city's water pipes.

"I don't think we'll be able to prevent many more of these at that pace," Koretz told KPCC. 

"I think (the water main break) creates a sense of awareness that our pipes are old and brittle and we are hundreds of years behind, literally, at this pace in terms of replacing them," he said.  "I think it gives me another opportunity to encourage the city to take a stronger look at how to do more."

The motion from Koretz and Council President Herb Wesson also calls for DWP officials to report to the Energy and Environment Committee. Specifically, City Hall officials want to know whether the Westwood pipe was scheduled for maintenance and just what caused it to shoot a 30-foot geyser into the sky and flood the UCLA campus.  

The Mayor's Office has yet to weigh in on how best to fund the DWP's aging water pipes. 

Iconic Pauley Pavilion

UCLA's Pauley Pavilion was one casualty of the ruptured water main so far. The court was covered at one point in eight to 10 inches of water, and crews working through the night to remove it couldn't stop the floor from buckling. 

UCLA reports the court is now being dried out with blowers, and the assistant vice chancellor for facilities management earlier said the court was top priority. There's a reason for that.

As the Associated Press reports, Pauley Pavilion is UCLA's storied basketball arena where John Wooden coached teams that won eight of his 10 national championships. AP continues:

Update 7:55 a.m. Cleanup, repairs to take days

Authorities expect cleanup and repair efforts to last days after millions of gallons of water were released near the UCLA campus, flooding streets, buildings and athletic fields and leaving more than 700 vehicles fully or partially submerged in the university's parking structures.

At least two valves are still leaking near the site of the original break and must be repaired.

Classes were expected to continue as normal and the campus remained open Wednesday, but officials urged the public to stay away from the area or use public transit.

Complicated repairs

The location of the leak has caused problems for repair crews, according to Jeff Bray with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

The pipe ruptured at a Y joint where a 30-inch main came together at an extreme angle with a 36-inch main, but repairs on the main breakage cannot be started until two other leaks nearby are stopped and the water level is reduced, Bray said.

"This leak repair will not be completed today. We're looking at an extended period of time at this moment in time," Bray said.

Redundancies in the system have allowed LADWP to continue providing water service to customers without interruption, however, and the water is safe to drink, he said.

Campus impact

Six buildings are closed at UCLA, including Pauley Pavilion, where crews worked through the night to remove eight to 10 inches of water that covered the court, according to Kelly Schmader, the university's assistant vice chancellor for facilities management.

"The court is showing a little signs of buckling and expansion right now. Whether we'll be able to save that court, I don't know. Obviously, if it is able to be saved, that'll be a top priority to get that restored," Schmader said. 

Other buildings closed included parking structures 4 and 7 and two childcare centers. Campus recreation activities were also closed for the day.

In addition, 739 vehicles were partly or wholly submerged when water flooded into the parking structures. A little less than half were totally covered, and the rest had varying degrees of water damage, Schmader said.

Those with vehicles in Structure 4 or 7 were being offered administrative leave and urged to contact the university by filling out a form online, which you can access here.

No damage assessments had been made yet, because many of the buildings were still being cleared of water, Schmader said.

Andrew Ames, a fitness instructor at UCLA, was in Parking Lot 4, right around the corner from Pauley Pavilion, when it all began. He shared his account and the following video with Take Two:


7:07 a.m.: Sunset Blvd. closed, other closures follow water main rupture

Sunset Boulevard will be closed near UCLA Wednesday following a water main rupture that flooded the campus, according to the university.

The stretch of Sunset from Veteran to Hilgard avenues remains closed during repairs.

City officials estimated that some 8 million to 10 million gallons of water were released over more than four hours before the flow was shut off. The water cracked the street and flooded parking garages, Pauley Pavilion, campus athletic fields and other areas.

Twitter: KPCC's Ben Bergman

Other closures reported by UCLA include:

  • Charles E. Young Drive North from Westwood Plaza to Royce Drive
  • Parking Structures 4 and 7 will be closed for the next few days (permit holders can park in structures 2 and 3)