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1931 Water Pipe Is The Culprit In Gusher That Again Flooded UCLA

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A large tree had to be removed for workers to get to a broken water main under Sunset Boulevard near Royce Drive on Aug. 23, 2020. (Courtesy LADWP)

Repairs continued Monday after a water main break flooded Sunset Boulevard near UCLA, in an incident reminiscent of the watery mess that flooded the campus and ruined hundreds of cars six years ago.

The pipe break, on a stretch of Sunset Boulevard near Royce Drive, occurred early Sunday morning, shutting down the street for 12 hours. Officials did not know why the 30-inch water line built in 1931 broke.

Much of the water gushing out of the pipe was routed away from UCLA into storm drains that take the water to the ocean, but enough got onto the campus to flood the bottom floor of an underground parking garage with about three feet of water, said Breonia Lindsey, director of water distribution for the L.A. Department of Water and Power.

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About ten cars were parked in the flooded area of the garage when the pipe broke in the early morning hours Sunday.

Some LADWP customers experienced lower water pressure but none were left without water service, Lindsey said.

Accessing the broken pipe was a challenge for crews. A tree’s roots had grown around the pipe, and a concrete culvert had been built on top, so the tree, roots, and part of a roadside wall had to be removed to get to the break. Repairs were expected to take another few days, Lindsey said.

The 2014 incident happened on a different pipe, about 500 feet west of Sunday’s break. Then, a 90-year-old Y-shaped pipe joint with a bad weld dating from the 1950s broke open. It flooded the south end of the campus with 20 million gallons of water and filled the lower floor of an underground parking garage, ruining more than 700 cars. The floor of Pauley Pavilion, where the Bruins play basketball, had to be replaced, part of about $15 million in damage from the leak.

In 2015, the LADWP estimated its water system needed $12 to $15 billion in repairs and replacements to make it resilient from earthquakes and pipe breaks like this weekend’s. Higher new water rates took effect in 2016, and part of the increase is going to an accelerated program to upgrade the aging system.

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The pipes in the system have about an 80-year life, but funding was in place to manage only about a 300-year replacement cycle back in 2015. With the higher water rates, that replacement cycle has been brought down to about 200 years, Lindsey said.

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