I just talked to Ken Kroski, a public information officer for the water department at the city of Phoenix. He said Phoenix has averaged 1,400 water main breaks annually for last three years.

I made him repeat that: 1,400 a year. He could sense my surprise.

“Keep in mind, Phoenix has about 6,700 miles of water lines,” he said.

The city of San Diego has 3,000 miles of water pipeline. But it has averaged only 118 water main breaks annually over the past three years.

That means every year, the city of San Diego’s water mains experience about one break per every 25 miles of water pipeline. The city of Phoenix has one break for every five miles of pipeline.

Or, here’s another way to look at the two cities and the rates at which their water mains break:

Let’s think about this for a second. The mayor wants to raise our water rates by 29 percent over the next four years. To drum up support for this plan, he has been highlighting recent water main breaks in the city including one last Friday that he said disrupted downtown.

Here’s the mayor then:

There’s no telling when the next one will occur and what kind of impact it will have on some neighborhood in San Diego. We need to act now to improve our water and sewer system infrastructure by implementing the schedule of repair and improvements and the new rate structure that will support them.

But does San Diego really have some kind of extraordinary problem with water main breaks?

The other day, numbers released by the Mayor’s Office didn’t seem to show an upward trend in the number of water main breaks. It appears that water mains have failed at about the same rate they did four years ago.

The mayor blames cast-iron piping for the water main breaks. But even after the four-year rate increase, the majority of that cast-iron piping will still be in use.

There may very well be a good reason for the water rate increase. But it doesn’t look like trying to avoid water main breaks is it. I’ll keep going with my survey of other cities.

P.S. Thanks to the responsive public information officers at the city of Phoenix. I was happy they just called me back. Also, the graph above is the handiwork of Vladimir Kogan, who makes computers everywhere tremble.


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