Opinion
Reading Los Angeles: Join The Times' new book club
Opinion Editorial
Editorial

With UCLA flood, L.A. pays the price for a geyser of neglect

If L.A. wants to fix its old pipes, City Council and the mayor need to make a long-term commitment to funding
DWP ratepayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in damages from water main break near UCLA

If Los Angeles leaders needed any reminders about the city's aging infrastructure and the ever-increasing backlog of maintenance, they got it Tuesday in the form of a 30-foot geyser spouting from Sunset Boulevard. The rupture of a 90-year-old water main sent more than 20 million gallons into the streets and onto the UCLA campus, flooding the recently renovated Pauley Pavilion. To add insult to injury, it spilled enough water to serve 155,000 people for a day — just as statewide restrictions on water waste took effect.

About a quarter of the city's water pipes are more than a century old and at increasing risk of failure, yet the Department of Water and Power's pipeline replacement rate is 315 years. In the wake of the Westwood break, several City Council members have called on the utility to fast-track pipe replacements and improve the reliability of the water system.

We've heard this before. After an accident, the DWP launches an aggressive schedule to repair and replace old infrastructure, then city or utility leaders balk when it's time to raise rates to continue the repairs. Indeed, the utility has already adopted a financial plan that called for investing $2 billion over 10 years to upgrade aging pipes. But the utility dropped plans for a rate hike in 2012, and a recent report shows that it has scaled back its water infrastructure goals. If L.A. wants to fix its old pipes faster than every 300 years, then the City Council and Mayor Eric Garcetti need to make a long-term commitment to funding the work and providing oversight to ensure that the money is spent efficiently. And customers will need to pay more for their water.

Higher water bills are a hard sell. Water rates have already risen 45% in the last two years simply because of the drought and the higher cost of imported water. Plus, ratepayers are being charged a special fee to repay the billions of dollars spent to cover open reservoirs and build the second-largest ultraviolet water treatment plant in the nation, all of which are required in order to meet state and federal environmental rules. But there's a cost to inaction as well. DWP ratepayers could be on the hook for tens of millions of dollars in damages from the water main break near UCLA.

L.A. is rapidly showing its age. Potholed streets, busted sidewalks, deteriorated power poles and leaking pipes are all symptoms of a city that can't afford or hasn't prioritized basic maintenance. Sometimes it takes a crisis — or a geyser — to focus city leaders and residents on the need to invest in infrastructure.

Follow the Opinion section on Twitter @latimesopinion

Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times
Related Content
  • Sunset Boulevard flood raises serious questions about city leadership
    Sunset Boulevard flood raises serious questions about city leadership

    It may be too much to hope for, but now that Sunset Boulevard in Westwood is a giant sinkhole and UCLA is underwater, could the fragile, aging infrastructure of Los Angeles finally get the upgrade it needs?

  • The Clintons lower the bar -- again
    The Clintons lower the bar -- again

    I once had a boss who gave me some great advice, not just for managing people but for judging politicians: You forgive mistakes; you punish patterns. Everybody screws up. But if someone won't learn from his mistakes and try to correct his behavior, then he either doesn't think it was a mistake...

  • Why whole-genome testing hurts more than it helps
    Why whole-genome testing hurts more than it helps

    President Obama proposes to plunk down $215 million on "precision medicine," and the National Institutes of Health and its National Cancer Institute will spend it by sequencing the whole genome of a million or more Americans.

  • Nepal earthquake: We had been warned
    Nepal earthquake: We had been warned

    Images coming out of Nepal's devastating earthquake on Saturday reminded me of another earthquake of similar magnitude that occurred 81 years ago. That earthquake of 1934, or nabbey salko bhuichalo, as it was referred to throughout my childhood in Katmandu, had acquired an air of a legend, delivered...

  • Venice Beach declares war on our infantile obsession with nudity
    Venice Beach declares war on our infantile obsession with nudity

    Not many people are aware of it, and few exercise the right, but it is legal for women to walk around topless in New York City and other cities.  (A bare-chested New Yorker even got $40,000 from the city to settle her lawsuit alleging harassment by the NYPD for her nudity.)

  • Federal government fails basic openness test
    Federal government fails basic openness test

    You’d think that if you were going to get a timely and adequate response to a Freedom of Information Act request from the federal government, it would be from the Department of Justice’s Office of Information Policy, which oversees the government’s compliance with FOIA requests.

  • Legislature, close loophole exempting building projects from CEQA
    Legislature, close loophole exempting building projects from CEQA

    There are few state laws developers loathe more than the California Environmental Quality Act. They complain that CEQA requires endless studies at an exorbitant cost. Drawn-out public hearings and threats of lawsuits can make development too unpredictable and risky. Interested parties — from environmentalists...

  • We're on a slippery slope toward a totally monitored world
    We're on a slippery slope toward a totally monitored world

    The John Hancock company has announced a program offering discounts on life insurance to customers with good health habits, as registered on their Fitbit monitors — wearable computers that automatically upload data on your physical state. The most physically active customers may earn as much as...

Comments
Loading