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One earthquake could cut off 70% of California’s water supply

One earthquake could cut off 70% of California’s water supply thumbnail
What do you get when you cross a record-setting drought with an earthquake? This question was recently asked on NPR, and it isn’t a pleasant visual. The devastation to the precarious water supply caused by a 7.8 magnitude quake on the San Andreas Fault could sever all four aqueducts at once, cutting off more than 70 percent of the water sustaining Southern California. This is a real threat and not some doomsday prediction. This means that an estimated 18 to 22 million people are just one major earthquake away from being completely cut off from their water supply.

Pat Abbott, a professor of geology at San Diego State University, explains that much of California’s water supply crosses over one of the earth’s most active fault systems. This situation has many engineers scrambling to put backup plans into place in the event that this occurs. And the reality is that most of Southern California’s water travels through the aqueduct system in the northern part of the state. The concern escalating is that those systems run directly over the San Andreas Fault.

Learning from the past

When we review the 1857 Fort Tejon earthquake where the land shifted a full 30 feet in 2 minutes, it isn’t hard to visual the structural damage to the aqueduct system this situation would bring. Getting to the broken aqueducts and making the repairs could take a very long time, leaving most of the residents with no water for their homes or businesses.

Pre-planning costs for this scenario are expensive, and having the ability to actually carry them out is another story. Finding alternate solutions like man-made lakes, additional water storage units and additions to the San Vicente Dam are among the discussions taking place.

“It’s a really concerning issue for the city of Los Angeles,” said Craig Davis, an engineer with the LA Department of Water and Power, which oversees the LA aqueduct. Additionally, studies reveal that it would take a year or more to rebuild the aqueducts, with loses estimated at $53 billion. The challenge lies in the fact that you can’t avoid the fault when bringing water from the north. So Davis and other engineers and water officials are searching for viable solutions before it happens.

Possible solutions

Engineers need to give this challenge a fresh perspective and redesign for long-term drought survival. Although the LA aqueduct crosses the San Andreas Fault in an underground tunnel which would shift and crumble in a big quake, complete service disruption could be avoided by installing a high-density polyethylene pipe that could survive the force, according to Davis. “You can almost collapse this pipe in its entirety and still get water through this, and there are some examples of ductile pipes in similar types of fault rupture events in Turkey that actually did this,” Davis said.

LA Water and Power proposes that this type of pipe be placed in the existing tunnel to keep some water flowing should there be a major quake. It’s similar to what the San Francisco Bay Area did after its 1989 earthquake. Abby Figueroa of the East Bay Municipal Utility District says engineers placed a reinforced pipe on sliding cradles inside a tunnel. “And we made it so that the pipeline could shift with the movement of the earth and that way it would minimize any damage,” she said.

So you might ask, who gets to pay for this kind of solution? That project was funded by a surcharge added to local water bills, and this is what might just have to happen to fund the proposed $10 million upgrade.

Natural News

27 Comments on "One earthquake could cut off 70% of California’s water supply"

  1. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 4:11 pm 

    It really wouldn’t take long to repair an aqueduct if it was severed by an earthquake. A far greater threat to California’s water supply is global climate change and the drought. The idiot D politicians in California just passed a huge water bill but most of the money in it is going for flood contro projectsl. Only governor Moonbeam would be spending money on flood control when the actual problem in California is a huge drought.


  2. penury on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 4:11 pm 

    If everything terrible that has been forecast in the last few years were to happen, it would be a problem, Are you skeered yet?

  3. American Idiot on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 4:56 pm 

    I’m looking forward to those California Idiots chocking on some dust.

  4. GregT on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 5:00 pm 

    Article says:

    “It’s a really concerning issue for the city of Los Angeles,” said Craig Davis, an engineer with the LA Department of Water and Power, which oversees the LA aqueduct. Additionally, studies reveal that it would take a year or more to rebuild the aqueducts, with loses estimated at $53 billion.”

    lil planter says:

    “It really wouldn’t take long to repair an aqueduct if it was severed by an earthquake. ”

    As usual, planter is in complete contradiction with reality. Why is that lil planter?

  5. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 5:12 pm 


    Have you ever seen an aqueduct? Its a ditch filled with water held in by walls of dirt.

    Please explain to me why it will take a year and 53 billion dollars to hire a bulldozer to bulldoze up new walls of dirt on the side of the aqueduct?

    Jeez you are gullible.

  6. hvacman on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 5:36 pm 

    A good chunk of CA’s gas piping and main high voltage tranmission lines also cross the SA and other major faults, not to mention the freeways, RR’s, fiber-optic cables, etc. Earthquakes are equal-opportunity disasters, basic utility-wise.

  7. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 5:47 pm 

    Yup. California also has schools, hospitals and police and fire stations built far too close to active faults.

    Repairing aqueducts will be simple and cheap compared to other infrastructure repairs that will be needed after the “Big One’ hits LA.

  8. ghung on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 5:48 pm 

    Plant: “Have you ever seen an aqueduct? Its a ditch filled with water held in by walls of dirt.”

    It’s pretty clear you’ve never seen the aqueducts in CA Plant, not much of them anyway. While they utilize gravity flow systems (as you say; ditches), there are also pumping stations, pipelines and tunnels. The Colorado Aqueduct has “five pumping stations, 63 mi (101 km) of canals, 92 mi (148 km) of tunnels, and 84 mi (135 km) of buried conduit and siphons”, so almost 4 times as much tunnel and pipeline (conduit) as “ditches” (per Wikipedia).

    Maybe you should verify before posting, eh?

  9. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 6:44 pm 


    You are imagining that an earthquake will destroy “five pumping stations, 63 mi (101 km) of canals, 92 mi (148 km) of tunnels, and 84 mi (135 km) of buried conduit and siphons”.

    But that isn’t what this article is about. Read the article—the concern is that displacement on a fault will offset an aqueduct. The article mentions a 10 m (33 foot) displacement. OK, so the wortst case would involve rebuiling a few hundred meters of aqueduct to reconnect the severed sections.

    As far as pumping stations, etc.—-all have been strengthened to withstand earthquakes. As far as tunnels, if you’d actually read the article you would have seen that the engineers actually want to put MORE of the aqueduct inside tunnels, because they feel that is MORE earthquake resistant.


  10. Plantagenet on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 6:54 pm 


    PS: Your suggestion that the earthquake will destroy pumping stations, canals, tunnels, conduit etc. over hundreds of kilometers is silly. Even the overwrought article we are discussing is only concerned about the motion on a fault crosse by an aqueduct directly displacing segments of the aqueuct. Don’t such a scaredy cat—-earthquakes are incredibly powerful—I went thorough a magnitude 7.9 here in Alaska in 2002 and it was quite a trip, but we know where the big faults are in california and we can predict the magnitude of future earthquakes on those faults with some level of confidence. You can’t stop a fault from offsetting an aqueduct, but the pumping stations etc. have been extensively retrofitted to be as secure as possible during earthquakes.

    Maybe you should verify before posting, eh?

  11. GregT on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 7:20 pm 

    It is you that should read the article planter. Especially the part that I quoted above. The part about “Craig Davis, an engineer with the LA Department of Water and Power, which oversees the LA aqueduct.”

    But of course your infinitely simplistic understanding of the world trumps anyone with actual experience and/or qualifications.

  12. Makati1 on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 8:30 pm 

    Logic says that the only part that might need ‘rebuilding’ is the part that crosses the fault line and maybe a few hundred yards either way. The ‘engineer’ is likely a shill for the company trying to sell the new plastic pipe. By now you should doubt any ‘expert’ that can make money from his ‘expert’ opinion. Think doctors and the tobacco industry, economists and today’s financial chaos, our corporate bought and paid for Congress and Prez, etc.

    If the fault shifts 30 feet, there will not be much of southern Cali left to worry about water. And I doubt that plastic pipe would survive either. We are not talking a few feet in diameter. The main one is 12 feet in diameter and 100+ years old, and flows by gravity. The others are not so well documented. I doubt any of them would survive a 30 foot displacement. Not to mention power lines, highways, buildings, etc. Cali is the last place in the US I would want to live. Well, maybe DC is worse.

  13. Apneaman on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 8:39 pm 

    The US economy is under threat because of its neglected infrastructure

    Public spending on roads, airports, bridges, railways and power grids is only half of Europe’s, and some say the nation’s very prosperity is threatened

  14. ghung on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 9:27 pm 

    Planetagenet wrote: “@Ghung

    PS: Your suggestion that the earthquake will destroy pumping stations, canals, tunnels, conduit etc. over hundreds of kilometers is silly.”

    I didn’t suggest anything, Plant. Your assertion that I did is erroneous and/or dishonest. I merely pointed out that your statement “Have you ever seen an aqueduct? Its a ditch filled with water held in by walls of dirt” is utter bullshit like most of your posts. These systems are far more complex and vulnerable than you seem to (or want others to) realize. You clearly haven’t done (or are incapable of doing) your homework on the subject. My homework tells me that most of these aqueducts in the fault zones are subterranean; pipes and tunnels, many running under other infrastructure.

  15. Apneaman on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 10:21 pm 

    Plant often redefines what commenters say. Which is funny coming from a guy always accusing article authors of setting up straw-man arguments. I don’t think Lil Planter really know exactly what a straw-man argument is since half the time he makes the accusation he is wrong. Maybe Plant knows exactly what he is doing. Negative attention is better than no attention at all when someone is desperate for it.

  16. Makati1 on Wed, 25th Mar 2015 11:45 pm 

    Related info:

    “About one-fifth of the city’s water pipes were installed before 1931 and nearly all will reach the end of their useful lives in the next 15 years. They are responsible for close to half of all water main leaks, and replacing them is a looming, $1-billion problem for the city.”

    Sounds like LA has many water problems if the SA fault slips. And no money to even fix existing leaks.

  17. Richard Ralph Roehl on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 5:04 am 

    Hey! This might be good news… to discourage further growth in the region.

    18+ million baboonies living in the Los Angeles basin (a little less than the $tate population) suggests the area has already far exceeded it’s capacity to sustain such numbers. Imagine 50 or 60 million baboony humans in the L.A. basin in 2085… with most of them speaking Spanish as a first language.

  18. Davy on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 7:26 am 

    Looks like the Philippines has to worry just like California about water infrastructure and earthquakes.

  19. Makati1 on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 9:14 am 

    Davy, we get earthquakes every day somewhere in the 7,000+ islands. Nothing new there on the Ring of Fire. Building codes are adequate in the cities. Safer than any American highway where over 100 are killed and thousand injured everyday.

    You live near the New Madrid Fault and may get a shaking you don’t expect someday. It is overdue.

    As for water problems, it’s difficult to get excited about such BS as it rains an average of 5 feet per year on the Manila side and 10 feet per year on the Pacific side. We have few days without at least a shower. Our farm will be a rainwater/cistern system as it is on the Pacific side. One square foot of roof provides 80+ gallons of water per year. 1,000 sq.ft. is more than enough for our needs and the rains come in off of the Pacific Ocean, not from China.

    As for Manila, it will cease to be so occupied when the SHTF. Those millions will go to their country homes, and the foreigners will go back to wherever, if they are not married to a Filipina(o) or have a place in the country. A few typhoons will clear the rivers of pollutants if the factories are shut down. At least the Ps are not facing a new dust bowl like the western and central parts of the UFSA appears to be headed for.

    Keep trying Davy… ^_^

  20. Davy on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 9:50 am 

    OH, calm down Mak, you like throwing stone but one gets thrown back and you get all flustered. You should spend more time talking about your local and its problems instead of focusing on everyone else. You remind me of someone with a dark embarrassing problem that picks at others problems to masks his own.

    I live in an area of a region that will not suffer much from the actual earthquake being in the rocky Ozarks. The region all around me is in serious trouble for a big quake because of all the construction on alluvial soils and the deep rich soils of agricultural Midwest. These type soils have a tendency to liquefy. St Louis is extremely vulnerable but Memphis is the worst.

    We have the potential for a nationwide catastrophe with all the lines of communications, energy conduits, and highways heading east and wet being disrupted. This in my opinion is worse than the situation in California because of the damage to the nationwide infrastructure system responsible for trade and communications. This is why I am glad I have a doomstead going at lease for the initial disruptions I should be in good shape. In fact I may be in a position of being able to help others in rebuilding having construction equipment.

    How is that Makster. Take note of my honesty and realism and look at your own agenda and denial and learn something. You take a critique of your local and try to explain it away in denial and I admit to mine and explain the dangers. We have two different personalities. One an agendist in denial and another admitting reality and not living in denial. Two ends of the spectrum one fake and one real.

  21. Bob Owens on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 1:05 pm 

    Any water plans for CA that don’t lead with conservation is a non-starter. If you need less water you will have less problems after an earthquake. As their agriculture uses 80% of the water that would be a main focus point. Mandate the elimination of water hungry crops, charge more for water, no more lawns, etc., and you have gone a long ways to a more secure future.

  22. drwater on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 3:07 pm 

    Southern California has multiple aqueducts for importing water, some at large distances from the others, so it would be extremely unlikely for one earthquake to knock them all out. They also have surface and groundwater storage to get them by for quite some time. The worst case result would probably be letting a big chunk of the irrigated landscaping die if it took that long to fix things.

    Plant is right that an earthquake big enough to sever a couple of the aqueducts would cause immense damage to other infrastructure.

  23. Makati1 on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 6:51 pm 

    Davy, you live in Zombie land. When the SHTF or any major event happens the zombies go wild. If you think an 8.0 on the Madrid will not affect you, you are dreaming.

    As for the rest of your rant. A lot of words saying nothing important. Your ‘realism’ is seen through rose colored glasses and blinders, but then you cannot see those either. A symptom of living in an ‘exceptional, indispensable’ country I guess. I merely point out that for every negative you point out there is a counter negative.

    The UFSA is a 3rd world, banana republic, police state in the making and living on past glories and perceptions, for now. The “American Dream” is dead and beginning to smell.

  24. Davy on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 7:35 pm 

    Damn, makster, that was some double talk. “I merely point out that for every negative point there is a counter negative point”. You are the obsessive anti-American I have to present a counter negative point to so I can display balance against your agenda driven propaganda. I do not initiate the propaganda spew. I just spray air freshener of balance and fairness to blunt the stink of exaggerations and distortions of your point. Once that happens then you flip out and begin your attacks. Typical agendist insecurities when your selective facts are called out. It makes you look like an idiot and that’s the reason for the anger.

  25. Makati1 on Thu, 26th Mar 2015 10:17 pm 

    Davy, you don’t HAVE to do anything except maybe take care of your family, pay your many taxes and, eventually, die. Trying to defend the UFSA only proves that it needs defending.

    Those here are of two minds. The ‘patriotic’ brainwashed American flag wavers and the ‘outsiders’ that see behind the curtain and mostly agree with me.

    Send your son to fight in the ME and see how it feels. There are plenty of US wars going on there now. They need cannon fodder. My grand son spent two years in Iraq and got out as soon as he could when he returned. He is not the brightest light in the room but even he saw the stupidity/horror of it all.

    That is still a war that only benefits the MIC and their stockholders. Maybe your 1% family is part of that mafia? Or your 401k? Or…?

  26. Davy on Fri, 27th Mar 2015 6:45 am 

    Makster said “Those here are of two minds. The ‘patriotic’ brainwashed American flag wavers and the ‘outsiders’ that see behind the curtain and mostly agree with me”. Sorry Malster, I am here to criticize and defend the US. I admit this. I constantly criticize the US. I defend the US against unfair attacks that are a constant from you and the other Anti-Americans here. Many of these attacks are valid and the same attacks I participate in but the difference is you glorify your side and never criticize your side. That is clearly propaganda plain and simple. It is an example of an agendist with one sided focus.

    You always copy and paste the same old criticism of me instead of addressing the real question. Does your super heroes have warts? Is there anything wrong with Asia? The best example I see of your farce is your discounting the overpopulation issue. The reason you cannot fully participate in the overpopulation arguments here on this forum is you are in the heart of a 12MIL people third world city in the heart of a region of 4BIL that cannot support itself post BAU. Half the coming excess deaths over births to balance the human population to sustainable levels is going to happen in Asia. This is something you can’t handle and are in denial of.

    Your farm is 80 miles from 12MIL people that is clearly not a refuge. Your farm will be overrun by the locust effect of desperate people in search of food from a depopulating mega city. You are currently in a small apartment right in the center of that sprawling city of 12MIL. What are you going to do if you have to get out when everyone else is getting out? Do you think you will have the special limo to the farm driving past everyone? Come on Makster get real with life.

  27. Lebron james on Thu, 16th Jun 2016 11:18 am 

    The reason money is being put into flood control is due to our reservoirs not being able to handle enough water. Recently San diego had to dump 500 million gallons of treated water into the ocean because the resevoirs weren’t able to handle all the water. Making them realize we need to expand on our resevoirs volumes

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