Thousands of people woke up without water Friday morning in Millbrae after six separate water lines ruptured within a nine-hour span – a problem the new mayor calls an issue with an aging infrastructure.
The first line broke just after 11 p.m. on Thursday, cascading into a total of six with the final rupture happening 8 a.m. Friday.
Mayor Wayne Lee on Friday was on his third day on the job for the city. He said he got the first call at 5 a.m.
“It’s just phenomenal for one system to fail like that in one city,” Lee said. “We have about 70-something miles of pipes 65 years old with a life expectancy of 50 years, so we have a lot of issues we have to deal with.”
The city is still trying to pinpoint what exactly caused the series of water main breaks, but Lee has an idea. He recalls a water pipe bursting just a couple blocks away from one of Friday’s main breaks. That happened on Super Bowl Sunday back in February.
“It was related to the pipe, I believe age of the pipe,” he said.
Lee estimated the price tag for replacing pipes at the latest six rupture sites at more than $1 million. But he said the entire city’s water distribution system needs a complete overhaul, a project that would cost well over $100 million.
“People always put these things out of their minds till it happens,” Lee warned. “I think residents, and I’m one of them, we’re all pretty stretched, but if we want to keep our streets safe, roads good, and water running, we all have to pitch in.”
Peter Buick was one of the many who had to figure out a way to get the kids to school – without water.
“Basically, nobody could brush their teeth, nobody could take a shower, we had to use hand wipes, brush our teeth with mouthwash, that type of thing,” Buick explained.
Perhaps no earth-shattering consequences, but Buick joked he learned how costly it was to flush the toilet. He said he had to run to the store twice in the morning to pick up water jugs.
“Picked up about 20 gallons of water at $1.29 a gallon, just so we could flush toilets throughout the morning,” he said. “If they have these water main breaks going on regularly then we have to take a long hard consideration how long we’re going to stay in the neighborhood.”
To prepare for any emergencies, city leaders reached out to the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which lent Millbrae water tenders in case of a fire.
The city estimated everyone would have water back by 8 p.m. Friday.