Mayor Todd Gloria and City Councilwoman Marni von Wilpert Thursday joined neighborhood residents in Otay Mesa Thursday to celebrate what is being touted as a record-breaking year for underground pipe replacements in the city.
Gloria made the decision to bolster repair crews a year ago — adding a second in-house pipeline replacement crew — and since then, the city replaced 3,960 linear feet of pipe.
“We need major infrastructure upgrades across San Diego because past administrations failed to properly invest in our neighborhoods, from street repair to underground pipes,” Gloria said. “By adding more pipe-repair crews, we’re making a down payment on our future by replacing those aging pipes now before they burst and require costly emergency fixes down the road.
“I want to applaud the hard work of our stormwater crews who are out there every day getting the job done for the people we proudly serve,” he said.
The mayor invited nearby residents and the Stormwater Department employees who worked on the project to join him in writing their signatures on the final piece of pipe before crews installed it to complete the three-month pipeline replacement project in a residential neighborhood south of Silver Wing Recreation Center.
The second pipeline replacement crew began work in January, doubling the number of personnel available for repairs and replacement to 30. These crews are tasked with proactively fixing pipe failures to avoid costly emergency repairs.
“When it rains, stormwater flows from roofs, sidewalks and other urban surfaces onto city streets, picking up pollution and trash along the way and ultimately flowing untreated into our oceans and bays. Investing in our stormwater infrastructure must be a top priority to keep our ocean healthy and clean and maintain the natural beauty that makes San Diego the place that we call home,” said von Wilpert, who chairs the council’s Active Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“Adding more stormwater repair crews to our city workforce was a huge step in the right direction and now we are working together with the mayor to secure state and federal funding to continue this vital infrastructure repair work,” she said.
According to Gloria — who based much of his mayoral campaign on infrastructure — most of the city’s stormwater system was built in the 20th century and is past its useful life, resulting in system deterioration and failure. Age combined with historic underfunding of the storm drain system has increased the risk of failures that could lead to neighborhood flooding.
The Otay Mesa project is one of 1,800 known stormwater pipe failures citywide that, if not prioritized for repair, would likely negatively affect the surrounding neighborhood with sinkholes, road closures and safety impacts, according to a statement from the mayor’s office. The Stormwater Department expedited the project after a sinkhole was discovered that caused damage to two nearby properties.
To help tackle its $1.4 billion infrastructure backlog, the department secured $54 million in state funds for projects in South Mission Beach and the Los Penasquitos Lagoon. In addition, the City Council recently approved a low-interest federal loan that paves the way for an investment of up to $733 million in stormwater projects during the next five years.
“One of the huge benefits of proactive pipeline replacement is that we can avoid a major failure that would require an expensive emergency fix,” said Bethany Bezak, interim director of the Stormwater Department. “The additional repair crew gives us more flexibility as we prioritize projects and do spot repairs around the city.”