Recent water-main breaks may be tied to 1994 Northridge earthquake

LOS ANGELES -- There has been a slew of water-main breaks in the Los Angeles area recently, and one possible explanation could be tied to the 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Dr. Lucy Jones, a U.S. Geological Survey seismologist, says there's a good chance these water main breaks are due in part to Northridge.

"We definitely have had a lot in the Valley that the utility experts attribute to small cracks that happened during the earthquake that have then taken years to leak out and undermine and break further," Jones said.

But officials at the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power say linking recent breaks to an earthquake 21 years ago is a stretch. They say the problem is pipes that are nearly a 100 years old.

"A lot of the breaks that we're getting in the news right now are really happening in the Hollywood area, West L.A. area, places that we have older pipe, where we know that pipe's in bad condition and in pretty corrosive soil," said DWP Asst. General Manager Marty Adams.

Adams says preparing L.A.'s water system for earthquakes is a top priority. They're switching out old, failing pipes with stronger, more flexible ones more likely to survive a major quake.

He notes that L.A. has more than 7,000 miles of water pipes. Updating all of it with quake-resilient pipes, he said, may take as long as 280 years.

"We need to be doing it faster than that," Jones said, "because I can be sure that there will be a very big earthquake in less than 300 years."