A week ago today some Palo Alto residents awoke to dry taps and toilets that wouldn’t refill after the initial flush. A water main had ruptured during the night sending water gushing down Newell Street. Palo Alto City Utilities crews worked through the night and much of Saturday to replace the bad pipe and get water flowing again.
Palo Alto is a mature city with quaint streets, graceful architecture—and an aging infrastructure.
Snaking beneath streets are 230 miles of water mains. The pipelines are made of everything from cast iron to concrete. The majority, 138 miles, is asbestos cement pipe (ACP) installed from the 1940s – 1970s.
Currently, the city uses High Density Polyethylene Pipe (HDPE) “which is by far the best kind,” according to Debra Katz, Utilities Communications Manager for the city.
Katz considers Palo Alto fortunate. While many cities are ignoring infrastructure during tough economic times, Palo Alto is sticking to its schedule of routinely replacing water mains. “We are proactive in that in each budget cycle, we set aside funds to replace mains based on where the field operations report indicates the most maintenance problems are occurring,” said Katz. “That way we know we are getting to the most problematic pipelines the fastest.”
The city is currently replacing three miles of pipe each year at a cost of $3 million. Katz calls that “a good pace” for the industry; a faster pace would require a significant increase on the part of ratepayers.
Katz praises the Palo Alto City Council for keeping its focus on the long-term needs of the community. Funding city-owned utilities upgrades isn’t sexy, but it’s responsible. “I am proud to say that the Palo Alto Utilities (supported by Council members who have long-term vision) has in the last few decades taken this bull by the horns, so to speak,” said Katz. “We have instituted aggressive programs to upgrade the electric, gas and water utility infrastructure to state-of-the-art modern materials with long lifetimes. But we are talking hundreds and hundreds of miles of wires, pipes etc. requiring these upgrades, so the process takes a while.”
At the request of Patch, city engineers pulled together a report detailing the type of pipeline delivering water to your home. Here’s the breakdown:
- Under ¼ mile, Steel (installation date unspecified)
- 26 miles, (CIP) Cast Iron Pipe (installed 1896 through the 1930s)
- 138 miles, (ACP) Asbestos Cement Pipe (installed from the 1940s – 1970s)
- 15 miles, (CCP) Concrete Cylinder Pipe (installed in the 1960s)
- 41 miles, (PVC) Polyvinylchloride (installed in 1980s and was the city’s standard replacement material until 2009)
- 7.5 miles, (HDPE) High Density Polyethylene Pipe (in 2009 the city switched to this newer material as its standard replacement material. It’s a higher quality than PVC, although more expensive.)
- 4 miles, (DIP) Ductile Iron Pipe (installed 1980s and still installed today when conditions call for it)
- 3 miles, unidentified Pipe
And the final word from Katz, “we constantly monitor our pipeline system and our water quality so we can feel confident in the reliable delivery of safe water to all our customers every day. I know that sounds like a platitude on a brochure, but I say it with 100% heartfelt sincerity. I love working for CPAU precisely because I know everyone here is motivated by doing what’s right for the community good and not the desire to line the pockets of private shareholders.”
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