Workers labor to replace California pipeline

Fifty-four workers labored around the clock to remove a damaged pipeline near Claremont, Calif., June 6-11 to prevent it from breaking and causing major water shortages.

The pipeline’s 40 prior breaks in a 44-foot section convinced Southern California Metropolitan Water District officials to conduct an emergency replacement of the pipe.

Eddie Rigdon, an assistant manager for the Metropolitan Water District, told the Los Angeles Times the job wasn’t easy. “This is a significant repair, not a Band-Aid,” he said.

To help conserve water in the area, residents and business owners were told to cut off all landscaping watering systems and to limit their showers to approximately three minutes. Locations that did not reduce water usage would have the utility cut off completely. The district cut off water supply to more than 350 users.

Crews started the project at midnight on June 6, shutting off water in the concrete pipe and waiting three hours for it to drain. Around 4 a.m., two excavators began digging a 25-foot-deep pit around the pipe. Another equipment operator used a tractor to install four large steel stakes in the ground and construct a steel retaining wall that would prevent cave-ins around the pipe.

During the evening on June 7, construction workers were digging by hand to uncover the exposed pipe. When the pipe was installed during the 1970s, a cable wiring was coiled tightly around the concrete to help it withstand the flow of 450,000 gallons of water per minute. In order to remove the pipe, specialists were brought in to carefully chip away the concrete that covered the wiring.

On June 8, demolition crews used diamond-studded saws to cut through the pipe’s 12-inch walls. The job was going smoothly until the cutting string on the saw broke twice in four hours, forcing workers to use a jackhammer to finish cutting through the pipe. Crews were faced with another setback when they discovered there was a block of concrete under part of the pipe. Workers used jackhammers again to free the pipe from the concrete. The pipes were then pulled loose by cranes and placed on flatbeds for disposal.

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It took construction crews approximately three more days to install a new pipeline. In addition to the replacement of the old pipe, an 18-foot section of nearby pipe was also reinforced with carbon fiber. Because area residents and the local government had to endure the emergency replacement with little warning, the government is now looking into installing a $1 million shut off valve that would prevent mass water shortages in the future. Authorities are also researching ways to detect leaking pipes early, before rupture becomes a possibility.