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DWP will tap insurance for UCLA's $13 million claim for burst pipe

The Los Angeles Department of Water and Power reports it's already paid $2.5 million in individual claims on damage from massive flooding after a main water pipe burst in Westwood last year - meaning whatever it agrees to pay UCLA for its damages will be billed almost entirely to insurance.

The city is self-insured for the first $3 million dollars of the claims filed in connection with the flooding, said Eskel Solomon, a city attorney in the DWP. An insurance company would pay the rest.

Students, campus staffers and others have filed more than 500 claims against DWP for damage to their cars and personal property lost in the flood.

UCLA is asking Los Angeles to pay $13 million in flood damages from the pipe break that damaged Pauley Pavilion, parking garages and several buildings, according to the university's claim filed with the city.

The historic Pauley Pavilion arena -- home to repeated UCLA basketball championship teams -- had been recently renovated when a pipe on Sunset Blvd. burst last July 29. The new basketball court was ruined under eight inches of water.

Bruin Plaza, three athletic fields,  two underground parking garages and several non-classroom buildings also needed rehab, according to the claim the university regents and its insurance company submitted Dec. 18 to the DWP.

Some 20 million gallons of drinking water coursed across the Westwood campus for four hours as utility workers struggled to close ninety-year-old water valves slowly enough to prevent further damage to surrounding pipes.

Corrosion and some poor welds likely caused the break at a Y-formation of three pipes installed under Sunset Blvd. near Marymount High School in 1921, 1931 and 1958.

The value of the lost water alone was about $50,000, representing about 4 percent of the city's daily water supply, officials said.

The DWP had paid out more than $1.06 million in claims for individual losses through the end of April, according to data it provided KPCC. DWP spokesman Joseph Ramallo said the total payout to individual claimants so far is about $2.5 million.

Historically, it has been cheaper for the DWP to pay for damaged property than to replace failing pipelines. In the five years preceding the UCLA pipe break, DWP had paid out just $9.4 million to settle damage claims from leaking and burst water lines, according to data obtained from the utility.

But Ramallo said it costs about three times more to repair a broken pipe than to replace an aging one, and that DWP has accelerated the pace of its main line pipe replacement, from about 65,000 linear feet per year four years ago to about 150,000 feet today. The DWP has recently begun a public outreach campaign in support of new higher water and power rates to enable the agency to replace even more pipe.

DWP pipes have about a 100-year lifespan, but at its current pace, a stretch of pipe would be replaced only about every 300 years. The new rates, the DWP said, would reduce that replacement cycle to about once every 150 years.