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Water main breaks: cheaper to pay flood damages than replacement costs for LA's aging water system

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says a 16-inch main ruptured Monday morning on Karen Drive in Encino.
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The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power says a 16-inch main ruptured Monday morning on Karen Drive in Encino.

When a water main fails, like the most recent incident in Encino on Monday, it can lead to a costly cleanup for the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power. Records obtained by KPCC from the DWP show that over the past five years, the utility paid out $9.4 million in claims filed after water main breaks.  That figure doesn't include any damage claims related to the massive water main break near UCLA back in July.

Still, those damages cost the utility just a fraction of the amount it would take to speed up replacement and repairs to the entire water delivery infrastructure, which includes miles of aging pipes. That project is underway, inching forward on a 300-year schedule. 

To speed up that timetable by 200 years would likely cost $4 billion, according to Councilman Paul Koretz. It's hard to say where that money could come from, since Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti has said he won't seek water rate increases until late 2015.

Meanwhile, water main breaks continue as the problem is studied by the Los Angeles City Council. Monday's break in Encino forced a family from their home and left about 100 customers without water.