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Number of road-damaging DWP water main ‘blowouts’ up this summer

Water main break
-Scenes from around the campus of UCLA after a water main broke under Sunset Boulevard, flooding the street and onto the Westwood campus.
(Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

This summer, Los Angeles has seen more high-energy water line ruptures that cause street damage, according to data from the Department of Water and Power.

Though the total number of pipe leaks of all types are stable, “blowouts” -- a term used to describe a subset of pipe breaks that damage roads -- are up from last year, with 34 in July and 24 in August. That compares with 15 in each month last year, according to agency data.

Julie Spacht, water executive managing engineer for the agency, said that blowouts are more common in summer because heat expands pipes. That in turn causes longer pipe cracks which release more water and cause greater street damage.

“They look more spectacular, they tend to be more visible from the public’s point of view,” she said. 

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A massive water main break in late July sent millions of gallons of water onto UCLA’s campus and Sunset Boulevard, drawing attention to the city’s aging pipe infrastructure. 

A water main break in Encino on Friday left 100 customers without service and came a day after another Encino water main break Thursday that forced the evacuation of two homes.

DWP spokesman Joe Ramallo said the higher blowout numbers in July and August were a typical fluctuation. He pointed out that total leaks have been dropping in recent years and are now averaging between three and four a day. Between Sept. 1 and Thursday, there were 36 leaks, he said.

Generally, water pipes spring more leaks in the colder months between December and February, Spacht said. But those tend to be smaller and less noticeable, she added. DWP data show those months often see more than 100 pipe ruptures while the rest of the year sees 60 to 80 total monthly leaks.

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