Infastructure issues across U.S. not an easy fix

As Brandon Scott reports from Los Angeles, fixing the problem is not easy or cheap
As Brandon Scott reports from Los Angeles, fi... 03:29

From rough roads to dangerous bridges and broken sidewalks, America's infrastructure is showing its age.

And while we can't see it, deep underground, the country's network of water pipes is aging too. It's a growing problem that's causing huge water main breaks across the country.

Fixing the problem isn't easy or cheap, CBS News' Brandon Scott reports.

When one water main ruptured in July, it looked like the scene from a summer blockbuster, with a sky-high geyser blasting through a giant crater in Los Angeles' famous Sunset Boulevard.

Twenty million gallons of water poured into the street, flooding the nearby UCLA campus.

Then, just two weeks ago in West Hollywood, another pipe burst, turning the iconic Sunset Strip into a raging river.

A LA water main break floods onto the street

It was the latest high-profile rupture in America's second-largest city, which every day averages three water main breaks.

"It's critical that we have pipe that can handle the loads that we put on it," said Jeff Bray, a superintendent with LA's water department.

His crew is trying to get ahead of the problem by replacing aging pipelines before they break.

The new pipes are made of welded steel and lined in cement. Once one is connected, it will handle a water flow of 51 million gallons every day

"With our budget the way it currently is, we're on a 300-year cycle to replace the smaller pipes," Bray said. "It's not fast enough."

But Los Angeles isn't alone. In Oklahoma, a summer water main break flooded a Tulsa road, leaving resident Cassie Hill stranded.

"Thank goodness for the firefighters; they helped me walk across in my flip-flops, and then they carried my dog across," she said.

And near Denver, a recent pair of breaks tore a hole through a suburban street and caused a sinkhole that swallowed a minivan.

"These systems were put in, some of them, as far back as the turn of the century," said Brian Pallasch, a director for the American Society of Civil Engineers. "And it's one of those problems where they're buried, so they're out of sight, and they're out of mind."

The American Society of Civil Engineers issued a report last year grading the nation's infrastructure. Water distribution earned a disappointing "D" after the report found a daily national average of 700 water main breaks.

"That's unacceptable," Pallasch said. "We think there should be more effort being put into replacing aging water systems."

"Within the last 15 years, we have placed over 50 miles of this large-diameter pipe in our service area," said Joe Castrita, water distribution director for the city water department.

He oversees all 7,000 miles of pipeline in LA. Replacing the 2-mile stretch he's currently working on will cost $60 million.

"These projects are massive, and they go over a series of years," Castria said. "There needs to be more dollars put in infrastructure replacement."

But the price tag to replace all of LA's aging pipes is a budget-busting $3 billion, money the cash-strapped city doesn't have.