Broken water main causes sinkhole in South L.A.

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By Sue Favor

Contributing Writer

SOUTH LOS ANGELES — Properties were spared flooding damage in a local neighborhood March 24 after a water main burst, causing a large sinkhole and sending water cascading throughout streets in the area.

The 57-year-old, eight-inch pipe ruptured at about 3 a.m. on West 69th Street, just east of Budlong Avenue. Residents reported hearing an explosion, after which water began streaming out into streets. Within a few hours, the sinkhole had swallowed up the south half of the street in front of two homes. A spokesperson for the Los Angeleds Department of Water and Power said the hole was four-and-a-half feet deep.

Water didn’t rise any higher than the curb, but 46 homes were without power and water until after 11 p.m. that night. Crews repaired the water line, while SoCal Gas fixed the gas line. Work continued for two days, and the hole was filled and the street reopened to traffic March 27.

The DWP spokesperson said the department wasn’t aware of damage to any parked vehicles, but did provide claims information to residents who asked.

Myra Bables, who lives a block from the sinkhole, said she had noticed a stream of water running down the street and sidewalk a week before, but thought someone was washing their driveway or sidewalk.

“It was a leak, and then the pipe burst,” she said.

Residents said the same thing happened three years ago, but repairs were made in one day. It is part of a problem that plagues cities around the country.

The DWP couldn’t say how many water main breaks happen in Los Angeles in a year, but said the agency sees about 18 leaks per 100 miles of water main. That is lower than the national average of 25 leaks per 100 miles of main.

“We have a robust pipe replacement program which began 15 years ago,” the spokesperson said. “We replaced 140,450 feet of mainline pipe in fiscal year 2019-20, and have set the goal of replacing 174,000 feet in fiscal year 2020-21.”

Throughout L.A., there is approximately 6,780 miles of mainline, which is pipeline that is 20 inches or less in diameter. More than 27%, or 1,840 miles of that pipe is more than 80 years old, beyond the average lifespan of an iron water main.

The DWP is in the midst of replacing 500 miles of the most leak-prone and high-risk mainlines in the city with earthquake-resistant pipe. Larger water lines and large valves also are being replaced, with priority given to areas along fault lines, and areas around hospitals and other essential services.

Mainlines are on every street, from arterials to residential roadways. Replacing pipe means digging up the street and re-routing traffic.

The agency’s 10-year infrastructure plan was detailed in 2016, which puts repairs at the halfway mark. That doesn’t include sudden breaks like the one on 69th Street, which happen throughout the city. On March 28 a large main ruptured in Pacific Palisades, flooding parking garages and streets.

The cause of that incident was a 16-inch water main that was installed in 1939 ruptured.

“A large volume of water threatened several apartment buildings,” said the Los Angeles Fire Department’s Nicholas Prange. One building was reported damaged, he said.

Bables said now that she knows the signs of possible water pipe troubles, she will be more vigilant.

“The sinkhole was really something, but we are lucky the water didn’t rise any higher,” she said. “We need to protect our homes.”

Sue Favor is a freelance reporter for Wave Newspapers, who covers South Los Angeles. She can be reached at newsroom@wavepublication.com.