San Francisco

San Francisco to Auction Off Unused Cast Iron Pipes, Bolts

In the 1980s, the city had plans to install high-pressure pipes citywide and purchased the materials, which were never installed.

If and when the big earthquake hits, will firefighters in San Francisco have a reliable source of water?

One fire expert says no, unless the city expands a high-pressure water system that is currently in place. San Francisco is now auctioning off parts of the water system that pumps water to several neighborhoods.

Thousands of pumps throughout the city are in place if the water line in the hydrant is broken. The pumps were installed in a basement of the San Francisco fire headquarters in 1911, following the deadly earthquake of 1906.

During an emergency, each of the four pumps have the ability to move 2,700 gallons of salt water a minute.

Assistant Deputy Chief Ken Lombardi said the purpose of the pump system, known as the auxiliary water supply system or AWSS, is to get water to firefighters if the main water lines break. The system is essentially a back up built to withstand an earthquake.

Because the system was built in 1911 there are several neighborhoods that are not covered like Richmond, Sunset and Portola.

In the 1980s, the city had plans to install high-pressure pipes citywide  and even bought the materials, but were never installed.

David Briggs with the Public Utilities Commission said dozens of cast iron pipes and bolts have been sitting in storage for 30 years. Now many of those items are up for auction with the potential to bring in tens of thousands of dollars.

"We can put that money to work for us right now to benefit the city, instead of sitting in a yard doing nothing," Briggs said.

Tom Doudiet, a retired San Francisco fire official, said unless the high-pressure water system is expanded, thousands of homes will be at risk.

"I think it is irresponsible," Doudiet said. "We're going down a rabbit hole by abandoning the expansion of AWSS."

The city is in the process of implementing other, more cost effective back up water sources, but critics claim those won't be enough when the big quake hits.

The San Francisco Fire Department said the city water supply is safe.

In the areas not covered by the high-pressure system, there are back ups in place like water tanks under water and plans to truck in water during an emergency, officials said.

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