Fingers in the Dike

Since I’m going to LA next week, I’ve been dropping into the LATimes website more often, and scrolling past the usual horsemen of LA apocalypse, like wildfires and, well, rain, it seems there’s always a story about another water main break, some of them quite spectacular.  Of course, this depressing phenomenon is familiar in many places, as officials at DWP (Los Angeles Department of Water and Power, a municipally owned utility of staggering size and complexity…) are eager to point out, LA’s 1400 “leaks” per year, some of which are leaky enough to collapse intersections and swallow cars, are less per mile considering the city’s 7,200 miles of water mains, than occur elsewhere.  Comforting enough, but three blowouts occurred today, one in Hollywood, one in the Hollywood Hills, and another in gasp, Malibu ! The courthouse there was shut down, even…  Mel Gibson should head out for a few beers.

There have been 43 major ruptures since Sept. 1, twice the number of that period the year before, and the DWP has gone so far as to consult the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to determine whether unusual ground movement (rather than increased pressure due to strict water rationing) might be the cause.  The answer, so far, from the JPL was frustratingly inconclusive as well as couched in the usual scientific hedging; evidently there has been “some deviation from the normal range” of ground movement in recent months, but the monitoring devices have only been in place for a few years, so such data cannot be properly assessed.

All this contributes to the precariousness and artificiality that make LA such a spooky place; everyone knows that without the Herculean feats of Mulholland and the DWP that date back over 100 years, the whole basin would still be desert, and the myriad disasters that continue to afflict this fragile and hubristic creation always threaten the desert’s return.  Sadly, the dreams of big money that built something so improbable and engineering-dependent as LA have faded into memory along with the public spirit and hope for the future that built them, and have now become, for LA’s 10 million residents, the subject of nightmares.  And any Angeleno that confronts routine street flooding from collapsing infrastructure can hardly help thinking, in dread, of what happened to New Orleans before them.

All across America, we continue to expect the systems we once built in a more civic era will continue to work, even as we know that they’re old and drastically underfunded, and must be repeatedly stuck together with duct tape and chewing gum just to get us through the next season, let alone the errant seismic event.  Civic improvements like water and flood control, though often pushed through by the local plutocrats of the era who did very well for themselves while incidentally doing a lot of good for others, are no longer affordable, even to simply maintain, in an era where the new plutocrats have become globalized, quick-buck non-citizens who prefer to briefly coast on the achievements of days gone by, and have no problem dropping their cities the way they drop their trophy wives when they show any sign of age.  Just move to the Caymans and be done with it.

I, and a lot of beleageured Angelenos wonder, what the water’s like there?


  1. Meremark says:

    Here’s a relatively recent 2cents of the question but the storyline is snowballing and showing there are dollars and more dollars about it.

    Caymans Bank Investigation Focuses on Unlikely Targets, By RONALD SMOTHERS, August 4, 1999

    Federal investigators and others involved in the prosecution of a former Cayman Islands banker said that some of the depositors were ”the rank and file of the upper middle class,” people like doctors and lawyers with six-figure annual incomes.

    The details about the depositors emerged after the former banker, John Mathewson, drew a lenient sentence on Monday for his role in a money laundering case. As soon as he was arrested, Mr. Mathewson gave investigators the computer records of his Cayman Islands bank, and lawyers in the case today provided more details on some of the bank’s nearly 2,000 American depositors.

    Although Federal lawyers have yet to exhaust the prosecutorial possibilities in the case, the Government has already collected $50 million in back taxes and penalties from some of the depositors.

    The lawyer for Mr. Mathewson, Oscar Gonzalez, described the depositors as ”doctors, lawyers, business people” looking for places to hide their money and evade taxes.

    Always fresh water is precious on an island, where cisterns collect the rain itself — see, when the rain falls it don’t fall on one man’s house, and as the trend is going now anyone who stashed money in the Caymans expecting to go someday to recover it, won’t be able on arrival to afford a drink of water.

    Perhaps we’ll never know what that water’s like …

  2. sysprog says:

    I spent some of my wild youth in a dry town in Ohio – - no cocktails served – - a town where the spirit of the Ohio Anti-Saloon League (*) held sway even decades after Prohibition.


    Our dear hag is understandably concerned about Los Angeles becoming a dry town.

    • cocktailhag says:

      This may be may last trip for a while, as my dear friend there is escaping soon, and I’m going down to ready her house for sale. As long as the place doesn’t go dry before Nov. 2, I’m ok. After that, have at it. You’re giving me ideas, sysprog…. I may have to put up an ad for my new organization (donations thirstily accepted), the “Pro-Saloon League.” We can’t let a tragedy like that happen again.
      I drink, therefore…. uh, what was I saying?

  3. Jim White says:

    Civic improvements like water and flood control, though often pushed through by the local plutocrats of the era who did very well for themselves while incidentally doing a lot of good for others, are no longer affordable, even to simply maintain

    And gosh, just think of all the people we could put to work rebuilding infrastructure like that. With only a fraction of the funds given away to the financial industry, we could have done tons of preventive maintenance and replaced bits that are too old, while at the same time providing an income to many who are now unemployed. I had thought some projects like that were supposed to have been part of the “stimulus” package, but I sure haven’t seen any evidence it has happened…

    • cocktailhag says:

      You can say that again. Think of all the Superfund sites, neglected roads and bridges, and disasters waiting to happen that we’ve “saved” money by forgetting about. With all the money we’ve saved, how come we’re so broke?

      • Kitt says:

        There was a lot of talk about ‘Stimulus’ money being targeted for ‘Infrastructure’. Any links or comments leading to the trail of what, if anything, has developed on that front would be appreciated. My brother lost his job and is now on unemployment, but he was under the impression (or had hope) that the stimulus money might provide a big boost to the company he had worked for, and thus, re-employ him. Since that has not happened he and I are wondering, as I’m sure all of you are wondering, what the hell gives?

        • I hate to say this to someone who’s actually been hurt, but what gives is Congress, and what they’re giving doesn’t include any thought to the future. I have no numbers to offer, but I suspect that if you did the research, you’d find that hardly any of the relatively little money allocated for the worthy projects that your brother is counting on has yet left the orbit of Versailles.

        • cocktailhag says:

          Well, here in Portland we have some fairly visible things going on; ranging from the small, like concrete pads at bus stops to stop the buses from ruining the pavement so rapidly, to some large renovation projects on the PSU campus, where I live. Still, a recent Oregonian article could only point to a couple of thousand jobs that had resulted. In California, the state budget is such a mess that any stimulous funds will probably vanish down the rat hole of deferred projects (like that $7.2 billion new Bay Bridge, which won’t be finished for years…). It seems that most projects that are being funded were already put out to bid, but did not commence until the federal funds came in.