2NEWS Investigators uncover hundreds of miles of old water pipe, not replaced in city of Tulsa

How old are Tulsa's underground water pipes?

TULSA - It's something we use and need daily - water.

Recent water main breaks have caused schools to shutdown and put hospitals on alert.

The month of July is one of the top months for water main breaks, and Tulsa averages four breaks every day.

The 2NEWS Investigators pored over 4,000 pages, examining every water main break in the City of Tulsa for the past three years.

We uncovered a total of 3,900 breaks since the beginning of 2011.

Some of these breaks are occurring in the same areas over and over again, such as around Utica Square and St. John Hospital at 21st and Utica.

Our investigation found that area has seen five water main breaks in three years. It was the most breaks we found in one block in the entire city.

Another area in midtown is busy too. We found one block on 31st Street between Utica and Lewis has had three breaks in three years.

Those areas are not alone. In fact, a large section of midtown has seen multiple water main breaks in the past three years.

The reason has to do with old cast iron pipes. The original waterlines were installed in the 1920s and 1930s and those same lines are still used today.

The City of Tulsa's Asset Manager for Water and Sewer, Joan Arthur, says that's a problem.

"The cast iron pipe when we put it in, we anticipated they would last about 100 years. In reality, the pipe from that era is lasting about 75 years," said Arthur.

There are 300 miles of cast iron pipe put in 75 years ago or longer in Tulsa. That's enough pipe to stretch from Tulsa to North Dallas.

In the City of Tulsa's fiscal year 2015 Water and Sewer Rate Adjustments, Tulsa Metropolitan Utility Authority budgeted $12 million toward replacing 10 to 20 miles of waterline per year to maintain the existing infrastructure.


In the map below, the dark purple section represents pipes from 1920 to 1930. The green section represents the 1940s. Click on the map for a bigger version and to see how the following five decades breakdown, as well as what the dots represent in regards to waterline breaks this year. 


Again, midtown is the main area for those old pipes in Tulsa, that's where Summre Cobb works.

"It makes me worry," said Cobb.

Summre is an assistant manager at Peppers at 21st and Utica and remembers the flooded streets in February when the waterline broke in front of her business.

She said her restaurant saw a big drop in business. She doesn't want to see it repeated this summer.

"It was like a lake out there," said Cobb.

The 2NEWS Investigators asked why these outdated pipes have not been replaced.

"They didn't necessarily put aside the money to replace it at the end of its life," said Arthur.

That's right. In fact, we uncovered a $250 million backlog of pipe replacement.

"We have a serious backlog that we have to catch up on, in addition to maintaining the system as it stands," said Tulsa City Councilor G.T. Bynum.

Councilor G.T. Bynum says about a decade ago the previous city council voted down water rate increases.

Bynum says the money would've paid to replace water lines.

Since the rates didn't increase in the past, now you have to pay for it with a 7 percent increase on your monthly bill starting October 1.

"That's why they're so high and that's why they're going to be every year," said Bynum.

As far as replacing the existing pipe, the city uses a "ten breaks in ten years" guideline.

The area at 21st at Utica is on the list to get replaced next year.

Summre has mixed feelings about that.

"I'm thinking that's great they're going to replace it but does that mean we're going to be down again because of the replacement. But it's worth it. It's totally worth it to have it," she said.

REPORT | American Water Works Association report about underground water infrastructure and the cost of $1 trillion over 25 years to restore and expand existing water systems.

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