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Surprise sewer break prompts LA Sanitation to accelerate repairs of aging pipes

A sewer break in July near the Sixth Street Bridge collapsed causing millions of gallons of waste to flow in the streets into the L.A. River. This is a photo of the bridge in January about the time it was closed to the public in advance of being dismantled.
A sewer break in July near the Sixth Street Bridge collapsed causing millions of gallons of waste to flow in the streets into the L.A. River. This is a photo of the bridge in January about the time it was closed to the public in advance of being dismantled.
MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images

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An 87-year-old sewer line that was not due for overhaul for another two years broke unexpectedly in July. The break, and the $4 million repair bill it generated, has prompted Los Angeles city officials to take a hard look at their sewer rehab schedule and give some sewers higher priority.

The break in a 5-foot diameter sewer on Mission Road east of Downtown sent more than two million gallons of sewage into the L.A. River. The sewage quickly flowed to the ocean, triggering beach closures in Long Beach and Seal Beach for several days.

It was the city's worst sewage spill in 15 years, officials said.

At the time of the break, city Sanitation Department supervisors estimated the cost to repair it at about $1.9 million. However, the sewer collapse triggered other ruptures farther along the sewer line, complicating the repair and making it more costly. The city Board of Public Works votes Friday to approve the final $4 million bill.
    
The break led L.A Sanitation to re-assess its repair schedule for aging sewers, said Adel Hagekhalil, assistant general manager.
    
"We've actually expedited some projects as a result and moved some things ahead of schedule," he said.
    
Emergency repairs tend to run double the cost of routine overhauls. The city keeps a list of pre-approved contractors available to call in an emergency, and those contractors charge for the labor and material costs of the repairs.

The city spends about $200 million dollars a year on scheduled sewer rehabs, Hagekhalil said.