USC is partnering with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to uncover the cause behind several water main breaks that have been flooding the city’s streets.
The project will be led by Jean-Pierre Bardet, director of USC’s Center on Megacities and chair of the Viterbi Astani Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering. Additionally, experts from across the country will help look for patterns in the breaks and consider solutions, Bardet said.
“USC was chosen because we have the Center on Megacities, an organized search unit approved by the Provost office,” he said. “We deal with issues related to urban systems, which is relevant to the water main breaks.”
Bardet and the other partners will be meeting with LADWP personnel and measuring water pipe data, such as the pipes’ ages, diameters and thicknesses, to identify the cause of the breaks and try to predict future ones.
“The main reason for the water breaks is probably that they’re old and corroded,” said Andrea Donnellan, JPL’s principal investigator. “We’re using radar to see if there are ground motions and any strong [fault] activity,” which Donnellan said could be another possible explanation for the breaks.
Motion along faults has been deviating from the normal range in the last 100 days, which could be a cause for the breaks, JPL officials said. The motions are not the faults themselves, but are fault-controlled, Donnellan said.
JPL had been studying recent fault activity because of the large number of minor earthquakes that hit Southern California over the summer. Then it was contacted by LADWP and decided to help, she added.
Cornell University is also contributing to the project by providing a computer simulation system that allows USC researches to analyze stresses on the water main structures.
The team is also considering other theories for the breaks, such as the city’s ordinance limiting outdoor water usage to only Mondays and Thursdays. Bardet said the added water pressure on aging pipes during the rest of the week could be behind the breaks.
“We’re trying not to speculate,” Bardet said. “We’re looking for the facts and trying to give solutions.”
The results of the water main project could also have an impact on overall water usage in Los Angeles.
“It’s like looking at the tip of an iceberg,” Bardet said. “We can use that to find something more profound, which may end up affecting how we use water.”
Bardet said the team’s efforts could also reveal data about water distribution that has the potential to affect cities everywhere.
“The problem is not specific to Los Angeles, but to cities across the country,” Bardet said.