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City Says Recent Water Main Breaks Typical of Average Year in Santa Barbara

Water-main replacement is being deferred due to the drought, according to city officials

Responders from the Santa Barbara City Fire Department found a 20-by-20-foot hole in the street caused by flooding on Olive and Gutierrez streets Sept. 25.
Responders from the Santa Barbara City Fire Department found a 20-by-20-foot hole in the street caused by flooding on Olive and Gutierrez streets Sept. 25.  (Robert Hazel / Santa Barbara City Fire Department photo)

There have been three high-profile water-line breaks in Santa Barbara over the last two weeks, but the city says that’s on target for a normal year.

Santa Barbara has 60 to 80 water-main breaks a year on average, water system manager Cathy Taylor said.

“I think people notice it more because of the drought and heightened awareness,” she said.

Residents of Bond Avenue in the Eastside neighborhood were evacuated Sunday night after a simultaneous gas-line and water-main break, and the incident followed two recent water-main breaks on busy streets. 

A Sept. 27 water-line break flooded the 1400 block of State Street and left several businesses without service for several hours, and a Sept. 25 break in the 300 block of Olive Street caused street damage including a 20-by-20-foot hole there.

The majority of the city's pipelines are made of cast iron – 44 percent of the 300 miles of pipeline – and it’s the worst-performing type, constructed right after World War II with a poor quality of metal, Taylor said.

“We have pipe in the ground from 1898 and it performs just fine,” Taylor said.

The city has very corrosive water, Taylor noted, and pressure changes or movement underground can also lead to breaks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that water systems have 27 main breaks per 100 miles, per year, and the city’s at 22, Taylor said.

Public Works crews do repairs as needed when pipelines break, but the city’s Water Main Replacement Program is on hold due to the drought. 

The program aims to replace 1 percent of the pipeline system annually, and no pipeline replacement work has been conducted since the beginning of last year. 

Construction is very water-intensive since it includes disinfecting pipelines by flushing water through them, Taylor said. The money is being accrued and will start being spent once water supplies improve.

“I hate the word deferred maintenance, those are two words that are bad together, but we’re deferring maintenance because of the drought,” she said.

“Once the drought breaks we’ll be going gangbusters again.”

Noozhawk managing editor Giana Magnoli can be reached at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address). Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.

Water and Gas Lines Break on Bond Avenue in Santa Barbara from Noozhawk on Vimeo.

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