City struggles to plug the leaky water pipes of Elysian Park

Broken pipe. Photo by Jennifer Emery

The refreshing sight and sound of flowing water is usually welcome on a hot summer day. But Jennifer Emery was not happy last week when she saw water spurting and flowing down a narrow canyon and across a road in Elysian Park. Emery was familiar enough with the park, where she takes her dog for walks, to know this was not a natural stream.  This new creek on the western side of the park near the Grace Simons Lodge was the result of the most recent water pipe break to plague the park. In this case, water flowed for three days across a park fire road popular with residents of Echo Park and Elysian Heights.

“The pipes burst all the time … as long as I have lived here, going on 14 years,” said Emery, who shot the above video on the Day Two of the pipe break. “Gallons and gallons of water wasted. With the amount of water that is lost and money spent on the cost of the water and fixing and patching the old pipes,  you would think it would cost less to re-pipe.”

You would think that but city officials and Elysian Park advocates say it’s not that simple.

Replacing the park’s aging and leak-prone irrigation system has been on the Recreation and Parks Department’s To-Do list for many years now. In fact, the Elysian Park Master Plan ranks the design and installation of a new water distribution and irrigation system among its top priorities to be implemented within one to five years.  That master plan and recommendation was made in 2006 and has obviously not been followed.

Pipe repair

The issue is money. No cost figures were available but Christine Peters, President of the Citizens Committee to Save Elysian Park, said funding would have to come from a future bond issue.  “The system needs a permanent and major overhaul, which only a bond or Proposition will make happen nowadays.”

Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Andrea Epstein said department workers try to fix major leaks as soon as they are discovered. But those same repairs cause pressure and problems in other parts of the aging network of pipes. “Repairs are made, then the pipe breaks somewhere else causing a new leakage,” Epstein said.”Our staff works tirelessly on these repairs.

Peters said the broken pipe problem has been exacerbated by a few residents who live near the park and have been able to turn on the park sprinklers. “Their unauthorized over watering often sets off a burst down the line,” said Peters. “It’s a shame, because when the line is capped it also caps the water source to the Marion Harlow Grove and watering hole, which means no water for the grove or the pups and people who count on it for a cooling off point mid hike.”

While Epstein said park workers are quick to fix busted pipes, Peters said department cut backs have allowed leaks to last longer.  “What would be fixed in a day in the past, now can take many days. As soon as 1 section is patched another breaks.”

Emery, who shot the video, said it makes no sense to let the water flow when the Department of Water and Power is preaching water conservation.  “It’s an environmental nightmare that the city should be held responsible for as we all try to conserve water.”


  1. That’s it! Shut the entire park down for five years, reshape the landscape and get rid of any character the park has. While we’re at it, lets slap a healthy dose of concrete around.

    • nice to take the extreme position! what’s your alternative? … leave the broken water pipe alone?

      • Sorry, I thought the “That’s it” was enough to present my comment as sarcasm. But at the same time, this is how people respond. It’s never about the best, least invasive, cost affective plan. It’s usually about, let’s bring in the bulldozers, pad everyone’s pocket and redesign. I’m totally aware there is no plan mentioned in the article (at least in detail), so I’m just talking out of my a$$ but the article does mention that nothing has been done because of budget. Which leads me to believe that it’s a “go big or go home” plan.

  2. I’m a regular hiker who for the past 5 years has witnessed the water pipes leaking. I have reported the leaks to city park workers and have had some luck in getting them to at least turn it off until they can get the proper people to fix the problem.

    What I’ve personally notice is that the pipes seem to start leaking after the yearly weed trimmers leave.

    It seems to me in a city where budget problems are at the forefront of the cities troubles that wasting water would get a priority response.

    All in all the city does a good job in keeping the park in great shape and with the pipes so old maybe more attention needs to be paid.

    • The pipes leak all year long.

      • Although that may be true, what I am saying is what I’ve personally notice on my daily hike through the park for the past 5 years and that is they seem to start leaking more right after the weed and tree trimmers leave.

  3. Yeah, it seems like there are always weird little leaks and bits of running water in Elysian Park, as well as weird swampy parts.

  4. As most of us have seen over the years, as soon as one leak is patched another pipe breaks. Could they go at it section by section, replacing all the plumbing in an area, then doing the same with in another tract, until the whole system was fixed?

  5. In reference to what Rock Singer is talking about, it would seem that perhaps there’s been excessive activity on the ground on top of the pipes, causing them to crack and break.
    If the pipeline is known, perhaps it could be identified to keep people from direct activity over it?
    If the trimming is being done in the spring then the ground would probably be softer and dropping a heavy tool box or piece of equipment could be enough to cause damage. Leaving heavy trucks, etc parked there can also have a damaging effect.

    The Park department may not have the money to fix all the pipes but they could try to identify what specific locations are breaking and see if there are activities which could be making the ground unstable–thus causing the breaks.
    Perhaps there are retired people who might have skills that could be used to plot the occurances and try to come up with a better understanding of when and how.
    Then maybe preventative measures can be considered and used.

  6. It is difficult to justify emergency repairs or overhaul when comparing the cost of “wasted” water versus an overhaul.

    Water costs somewhere around 30 cents per hundred gallons. Even if the leak lasts a few days, one could see how $30 – $50 worth of water hardly compares to hundreds of thousands for an overhaul.

    I would also argue that the water isn’t wasted as it irrigates the plant life in the area.

    The overhaul should eventually be done, however it is hardly an emergency that some would have you believe.

  7. Do we really have to discuss the way ground water permeates?

  8. Of course there are a lot of leaks in old pipes everywhere. The LADWP doesn’t like to provide numbers about this. I think it’s not far off to say that out of every three gallons going in, about two make it through a customer’s meter. It may not be 66/33, but it’s certainly not 90/10 either. The recent spate of main bursts (due to, it is thought, the rescheduling of irrigation systems by citywide rule) has prompted a bunch of water main projects as the size of the problem has become clearer.

  9. Time to cut off the water to the park except for the main grassy promenades. All trees are mature and not needing it. It is nearly pure chaparral as it is, let nature tend it, most visitors will not know the diff.

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