Oh those aging pipes…
Last updated 3/3/2021 at 10:27am
After 40 to 60 years of reliable service, the waterlines serving Borrego Water District (BWD) customers are “aging out” at the same time and now in need of replacement. BWD’s history gives insights into how this happened. The water system for Borrego Springs was created with the consolidation of small private Water Companies. In the 1960s – 1980s heyday of home building, Developers created independent, private water systems for the new neighborhoods. Typically, each development had its own well/pump, tank and water lines to serve homes and businesses. Over the years, residents in these neighborhoods decided they could not continue to financially function and/or had other reasons why it didn’t want to continue running a water company, so they merged their water infrastructure into what is now BWD. Borrego Air Ranch is the only community in Borrego Springs that still runs as a private water company.
Back in the day, developers typically used Asbestos-Cement (AC) pipe materials for waterlines. As the AC pipes age, they become brittle and when air gets into the line the pressure of the water and turbulence of the air can cause the side of the pipe to burst. A couple years ago an AC pipe burst spectacularly, as those who saw the 30-foot geyser on Lazy S can attest.
AC pipes are completely safe for drinking and everyday use. The asbestos is melded into the cement and does not dissolve into the water. However, repairing asbestos-cement pipes is dangerous for BWD crews because air borne asbestos can be hazardous to lung tissue. The section of the AC pipe with the break must be safely cut out and sawing through the asbestos-cement puts fine particles of asbestos in the air which requires the crews to wear Personal Protective Equipment. The crew takes special precautions working with these pipes and the broken pieces are securely bagged and disposed of properly.
In the “newer” developments and on AC pipe repairs, PVC pipes were used for water transmission. The pipes were not buried in a soft bed of sand as intended, but with rocks, broken pavement and whatever was available nearby. As time has passed the pipelines have been rattled by ground settling, small earthquakes and water pressure surges causing them to rub on the rocks and sharp objects. The abrasion and age of the PVC plastic creates a tiny hole that quickly grows into a serious leak. As an example, a quarter mile of pipe on Country Club and Bending Elbow has had over 50 leak repairs since BWD has been keeping records.
BWD has a Capital Improvement Plan, to replace the aging pipelines and other water/sewer infrastructure and ensure continued service into the future. Funding of the Projects required consists of Grants, Bond Financing and Water Rates and Charges. Every 5 years, BWD goes through a complex rate setting process in a process created by CA Proposition 218. The process to set rates for 2021 thru 2026 is underway and more information will be coming in March on the Prop 218 rate setting process and important dates for public meetings.