Replacing San Diego's aging, crumbling pipes is a long, slow process

City spent $328 million on pipe repairs since 2013
Posted at 6:46 AM, Oct 31, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-31 11:26:34-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - The City of San Diego Public Utilities department has spend almost $328 million since 2013 to repair and replace 116 miles of water transmission and distribution pipes as part of a program to upgrade it's aging water system, according to documents given to 10News.

Most of those repairs (72 miles) were on cast iron pipes, the oldest ones in the system.

"We have more than 3,000 miles of pipeline," said department spokesperson Brent Eidson, "To do it properly, we're probably always going to be replacing pipes."

The project began in 2007 with a rate increase to pay for the work. As older pipes have been replaced, city officials say the number of water main breaks has decreased.

The Public Utilities Department gave 10News the following numbers about the amount of breaks over the past 6 years:

2012: 102

2013: 95

2014: 74

2015: 63

2016: 85

2017: 66 (as of October 20)

"We know we're not going to stop every break," said Eidson. "But if you look at our track record and our pace of replacement, we've seen a significant decline in the number of breaks that we've had."

The project replaces aging pipes made out of cast iron or concrete with new PVC pipes. Eidson said that's the industry standard and they have a life expectancy of 50-75 years. He says economics and budgeting led to delays in the older pipes not being replaced sooner.

That changed when the rate increase was approved. Now the goal is to replace 30 miles per year.

The city says its water system extends over 400 square miles and moves approximately 172 million gallons per day. It includes 49 water pump stations, 29 treated water storage facilities, three water treatment plants and more than 3,300 miles of pipelines.

Through the replacement project, the department hopes to have all of the cast iron distribution lines (6-12 inches) replaced by 2018-19. Their goal for the larger cast iron transmission mains (16 inches or bigger) should be finished by 2023.

Right now, they say there are still about 46 miles of cast iron pipes in the system, some of them almost 100 years old.

Once the cast iron lines are replaced, they'll shift the focus to the older concrete lines.

"I look at it like painting the Golden Gate Bridge," said Eidson. "You're never finished."