Get SF Weekly Newsletters

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Engineer: Century-Old Pipes Bursting From Old Age Won't Survive Quake

Posted By on Tue, Dec 15, 2009 at 8:30 AM

Wait! We're not ready!
  • Wait! We're not ready!
You don't need to be a top-flight engineer to figure that a century-old water main that crumbled on its own over the weekend turning SoMa into a swamp would not have survived a strong earthquake. Chris Poland, however, is a top-flight engineer, and he confirmed it -- the city's Taft administration water mains will not survive the Big One. In fact, much of our "lifeline" systems -- water, sewers, roads, cables, etc. -- won't make it. The good news is, the city is aware of this and is taking steps to combat the problem.

The bad news is, that won't mean much if the Big One were to come tomorrow.

"We'll have the new Hetch Hetchy water system to get the water to our reservoirs. There's good reliability there" in terms of a quake, said Poland, the CEO and chairman of Degenkolb Engineers in the city and a 35-year veteran of building design. "But getting water from the reservoirs to our homes so we can go on with our daily lives needs to be dealt with."

Poland chairs the disaster resilience initiative and seismic mitigation task force for San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR); he and others have found that the organizations running the city's lifelines often didn't communicate with one another. Again, you don't need an engineering degree to figure out why this is a serious problem.

"A number of the lifeline providers are depending on PG&E before anything happens and PG&E is saying we've got to move people to the hotspots so we've got to have transportation," says Poland. It'd be O. Henry-like -- but instead of being arrested for vagrancy, the protagonists of this story -- San Franciscans, namely -- are expiring beneath a pile of rubble. In short, those in charge of maintaining the city's roads and bridges are relying on PG&E for power, while PG&E needs passable roads first and foremost. It's quite a predicament.

 "The most important thing is, now the city recognizes it needs to do this," notes Poland. How problems like the one above will be worked out hasn't yet been determined. But the city's "Lifelines Council" is now beginning to work on that; its first meeting was earlier this winter.

But, again, if the big one is also the soon one -- we're in trouble.

"We've done a wonderful job over the past 100 years as structural engineers and earthquake professionals to make the community safe," says Poland. "Most people will get out of their buildings and go someplace else. But at the end of 72 hours when it comes time to start the recovery process, we are unprepared."

  • Pin It

Tags: , , , , ,

About The Author

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi was born in San Francisco, raised in the Bay Area, and attended U.C. Berkeley. He never left. "Your humble narrator" was a staff writer and columnist for SF Weekly from 2007 to 2015. He resides in the Excelsior with his wife, 4.3 miles from his birthplace and 5,474 from hers.


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

Popular Stories

  1. Most Popular Stories
  2. Stories You Missed

Like us on Facebook


  • clipping at Brava Theater Sept. 11
    Sub Pop recording artists 'clipping.' brought their brand of noise-driven experimental hip hop to the closing night of 2016's San Francisco Electronic Music Fest this past Sunday. The packed Brava Theater hosted an initially seated crowd that ended the night jumping and dancing against the front of the stage. The trio performed a set focused on their recently released Sci-Fi Horror concept album, 'Splendor & Misery', then delved into their dancier and more aggressive back catalogue, and recent single 'Wriggle'. Opening performances included local experimental electronic duo 'Tujurikkuja' and computer music artist 'Madalyn Merkey.'"