San Diego grand jury takes aim at ancient asbestos-cement pipes underground

May cost billions to replace

SAN DIEGO - Water main and pipe breaks have become a fact of life with the San Diego infrastructure reaching old age. 

The San Diego County grand jury issued a warning about 2,100 miles of underground asbestos-cement pipe that is worn out.

“The city needs to re-prioritize and accelerate the replacement of these pipes," said Gregory Ny, foreman of the grand jury.

San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer has been pushing for infrastructure renewal for years. 

“I'm never surprised at the backlog of infrastructure because of what the city did not do and should have been doing, literally, for decades," Faulconer said. "We’re doing condition assessments on all those pipes. Doesn’t do us any good to be penny-wise and pound-foolish.”

San Diego city council president Todd Gloria spoke of the enormity of the situation. 

“This problem is at least $2 or $3 billion large," Gloria said. "And when you understand that the city general fund budget is $1.2 billion, you understand how difficult it's going to be to meet all of our obligations to neighborhood infrastructure with our current financing.”

The timetable is daunting, too.

“Even at 40 miles per year, we're talking over 50 years to replace this asbestos pipe," Ny estimated.

And no neighborhood is immune.

Ryan Paton, who owns Starkey’s BBQ in Mission Beach, remembers having to close for the day in April when a water main broke.  “If this is the case all around San Diego, there's going to be a lot of economic hardship -- one day for a small business like this can mean a lot.”

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