Hackers Did Not Flood LA’s Critical Infrastructure

Yesterday, a water main broke at UCLA, causing flooding and the tremendous waste of drought-era CA’s scarcest resource, water.

The rupture of the 90-year-old main sent a geyser shooting 30 feet in the air and deluged Sunset Boulevard and UCLA with 8 million to 10 million gallons of water before it was shut off more than three hours after the pipe burst, city officials said.

The water main ruptured shortly before 3:30 p.m. in the 10600 block of Sunset Boulevard, fire officials said, sending a geyser shooting 30 feet in the air. The main, which delivers 75,000 gallons a minute, was finally shut down about 7 p.m., officials said.

But by then, Sunset Boulevard and UCLA had been deluged. Sunset was closed in both directions from Marymount Place to Westwood Plaza, snarling traffic.


Thousands of gallons of water trapped five people in their cars as they tried to drive out of the flood zone, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

Water was seen inside the J.D. Morgan Center, which houses athletic staff and administration offices, the George Kneller Academic Center, UCLA’s Athletic Hall of Fame and the John Wooden Center.

Water pipes are precisely the kind of critical infrastructure the government always worries will be vulnerable to hackers or (because water is pretty low tech) terrorists.

But it’s likely neither of those had a hand in this break. Simple neglected infrastructure did.

And yet that — our crumbling infrastructure that results in the waste of millions of gallons of water during an acute drought — doesn’t get the same kind of urgent attention. It’s okay, it seems, for neglect to lead to such catastrophes on its own, just not if hackers or terrorists help such catastrophes along.

12 replies
  1. wallace says:

    I read that pipe feeds 75k gallons per minute. I wonder where people down line from the break are going to get that much water from now? That’s a LOT of water bottles. That’s close to a half million gallons per hour. Damn. Gonna be some stinky people in LA. Hahahaha!

  2. P J Evans says:

    They couldn’t find the valve to shut down that section of pipe. That’s a failure of another kind. (One of the things we dealt with, where I worked, was trying to pin down all that kind of information so that you could find critical sites at night, if something happened. DWP should be doing that.)

  3. Ben Franklin says:

    In the 3rd year of a bone-dry drought, people can be fined for watering their lawns, but ancient pipe failure, with all the cheap cash Water and Power has, is too expensive to address except on a case-by-case rupture. What a terrible waste.

    GHWB and T Boone, do you have any spare change (or water)?

    • P J Evans says:

      Two or three years back, LA was imposing a watering schedule where entire neighborhoods had the same day to water. A lot of pipes broke, some quite messily (one fire engine was nearly eaten by a sinkhole), and it was assumed by most people that the schedule with its pressure changes had a lot to do with the breakage. (It was pointed out that previous water-scheduling systems had done things like even/odd days, so the usage was more spread out and the pipes weren’t affected.)

  4. Moonshiner says:

    LAPD, HLS, the FKGBI and CIA Foreign-Based-Operations (who aren’t domestic and so can work in the U.S as a “foreign Country) are actively seeking information to locate three wino-terrorists who are reported to have been seen peeing on the ground in the vicinity of the broken water pipe “Those guys urine is known to be especially acidic, and they know it.” Special agent Ana Stasi said in a press statement. “So, of course we are taking the report of their peeing seriously and treating this as a Terrorist Act. We will find them, and we will get confessions, even if we have to take them all the way to Oregon or Washington to find the water to do it.”

    Just think, ten years ago writing the above would have been comic. Now, it will probably get me arrested…

  5. wallace says:

    quote”They couldn’t find the valve to shut down that section of pipe.”unquote

    Of course not. The secret why went to the grave with Mulholland. They might want to look up Chinatown though. Or in the San Fernando valley. :)

  6. wallace says:

    quote”What a terrible waste.”unquote

    Waste?? Hey, figure it this way. It’ll save the cost of flushing the home of the homeless. Unfortunately, those USC athletic buildings that flooded were just refurbished in 2012 at a cost of some $1.7mil. Perhaps Janet Napolitano will forgo her $200k yr salary to help replace those nice wood floors . I won’t hold my breath though.

  7. earlofhuntingdon says:

    The government, that is to say, Wall Street, doesn’t much care for 20th century infrastructure. Wall Street, or, say, Bechtel or a London “consortium” including Bechtel, would rather buy third world water systems at fire sale prices than see govt. revenues “sidelined” into paying for renewed water or roadway systems. Extraction of rents is the point, not quality of infrastructure, let alone quality of life for the plebes or the schools, governments and businesses for whom they work.

    That’s not a very up beat purpose, or one a politician can easily sell or hide behind. Consequently, one would expect PR firms to come to the rescue, as in making claims about attempts to fix these things (akin to BP’s claims about how it “prevents” and “fixes” oil leaks), and far out claims about “terrorist” or “hackers” shutting down what really is essential infrastructure.

    • P J Evans says:

      It’s so much sexier, so to speak, to build new facilities than it is to maintain existing ones.
      If DWP were as independent as some of its employees have claimed – no, really, I was told by one that they’re not really part of city government – it would be nailed to the wall for this kind of stuff.

  8. wallace says:

    quote”Wall Street, or, say, Bechtel or a London “consortium” including Bechtel, would rather buy third world water systems at fire sale prices than see govt. revenues “sidelined” into paying for renewed water or roadway systems. Extraction of rents is the point, not quality of infrastructure, let alone quality of life for the plebes or the schools, governments and businesses for whom they work. “unquote

    What amazes me is the depth to which our infrastructure has been sold to foreign corporations. I few years back, an 8” water main cracked in my back yard. After I discovered the flooding, which covered the entire backyard, and my neighbors too, in a foot deep pool, I called the Sacramento county water district, which had now changed hands, to a company called, of all things, the American Water Company. Ha! They said they would have to call GERMANY to get authorization to send some one out. Four days later, they still hadn’t done a damn thing, so I called again. No one knew a thing. Not even that I had already called, notwithstanding every one of my neighbors had also called. Now the pool was flooding the street. Again, I was told they had to get authorization from Germany. I was livid. Here I was paying for water, from rain runoff into Folsom Lake, that a German company was selling to american citizens. Another 3 days pass. By this time, I had called every government agency I could think of and NO ONE COULD HELP. Finally after a full week and a half, a truck showed up with one guy to look at where it was leaking. He too couldn’t find a shutoff, which later we found out was a full half mile away. Two more days pass, after they found the valve, and the pool had dissipated. Now they try to find the pipe. Three guys that might as well been the three stooges. They dig up half my back yard. Takes all day, regardless that the leak was well defined in the ground. So, they finally find the broken portion of pipe, but NOW..they have to get permission from Germany to repair it. I’m laughing in their face, while calling the local office threatening a lawsuit from damage to my entire back yard. They leave. Another three days go by, but meanwhile, no one on within a two mile radius has any water. Finally, after my neighbors and I DRIVE to the local office in an outraged demeanor whereby the office threatens to call the police, we get the manager to call Germany while we are there and get something fucking moving. Within an hour, a crew came out and fixed it. Took all of one hour. Meanwhile, a couple of hundred thousands of gallons of water runs into the sewers. Guess who got the bill. Us. Collectively, and collectively we told them to shove it up their ass. But the company in Germany heard from our congressman. Never heard a word again. Fuck these foreign theiving bastards.

  9. crowinghen says:

    Thank you, Marcy, for addressing this issue. I have been researching this for several years and it is a huge problem that is not going to get better on its own.

    Even with all these old water pipes that are well past their maximum lifetimes, many cities are now adding chloramine to the water (rather than expensive filters) to keep certain bacteria from building up in the pipes farther from the water treatment plant. (A better solution is more filters at the plant, but that solution is more expensive.) One of the several problems with chloramine is it increases corrosion of metal pipes and the lead solder used in repairs until recent years, and also damages the gaskets. So, one would think, more water leaks, more damage to streets.

    And it creates another problem: Many older homes have lead pipes (in my city in the midwest, the 1917 plumbing code required that the household plumbing be constructed of either lead or iron pipes) which are now subject to more corrosion from the chloramine. In addition to corroding the pipes, this releases some of that lead into the water that comes out of our faucets. And most people don’t know to flush their faucets first thing in the morning (another waste of water) or get filters–the specific kind that reduce lead–or buy filtered water. (I carry my three gallon refillable jugs to the grocery story every week to get filtered water. Maybe they could start selling unleaded water right alongside the unleaded gas at convenience stores!)

    Another problem is aging stormwater pipes. Under consent orders with EPA and state DEQ agencies because of sanitary sewage overflows (which often happen during or immediately after heavy rains), cities have spent millions (in my city over a half billion) to expand the sanitary sewer treatment plants (to handle the increased volume when stormwater infiltrates the sanitary sewer system) and to line the deteriorated sanitary sewer pipes to keep the water from getting in.

    Since most of those sewage overflows occur when stormwater escapes the stormwater system and flows along gravity flow pipes until it finds a defect in a sanitary sewer pipe to flow into, as it flows along the outside of those gravity-flow pipes, it is washing away soil along the outside of those pipes, causing subsidence above the pipes as the soil sinks to fill in the voids left when the soil was washed away from around the pipe. (They ignore the fact that even if they make all the city sanitary sewer pipes water tight, there are tens of thousands of private sewer lines attached, and the escaped stormwater can infiltrate through defects in those. Two years after the first half billion was spent on ‘fixing’ the sanitary sewer system to stop the overflows, we had a heavy rain year, and there was another consent order, more EPA fines…..seems to me that fixing the stormwater pipes and keeping stormwater from pouring into the subsurface might be an approach they should have considered.)

    Very little attention has been paid to the stormwater system, which is the same age as the deteriorated sanitary sewer system. The deteriorated catch basins and cracked or broken pipes that allow stormwater to escape during rain events are neglected as hundreds of billions are spent on the sanitary system. (I have taken photos of the catch basins and the pipes connected to them in my older neighborhood –holes and cracks galore.) Keep in mind that the maximum life span of a concrete stormwater pipe is 75-100 years, and in my neighborhood they are about 99 years old.

    Sorry….this is too long….I lurk every day, but when I come out of lurking on a subject near and dear to my heart –my home was built over these old sewer lines and there was no easement in land records to alert me to it, now it is falling in over those lines as the soil beneath it is being washed away– it’s hard to be brief.

    I will close with this and recommend that you check the equivalent report for your location: In my city, based on the most recent annual stormwater report, at the current rate of inspection and repair/replacement, it would take 883 years to inspect all the miles of stormwater pipes, and 1,081 years to replace all of the miles of stormwater pipe. And it would take 33 years to inspect all the catch basins and 246 years to replace them.

    Most of these pipes are under the streets on which we drive…on which our families, our children and grandchildren and others drive or are transported. Streets have been known to just open up and cars fall in because of cavities under the streets around sewer lines. Something to think about. (Next time you are stuck at a stoplight, look at the cracks in the street or intersection….if the cracks are running between a catch basin and a manhole or between manholes, keep in mind there’s a pipe under that crack, and likely soil has been washed away, causing that crack.)

    On one of the videos I saw on the LA water main pipe burst, the reporter had done his research, and noted that at the replacement rate for LA, that pipe would have been expected to last 300 years, but it only lasted 93.

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