Seattle water officials may never know why pipe burst in U-District

SEATTLE -- After a burst pipe spilled thousands of gallons of water into the streets of Seattle's University District Tuesday, The KOMO 4 Problem Solvers set to find out how many pipes like it could be at risk?

"That's a valid concern," said Tony Blackwell with Seattle Public Utilities. "The reality is, the city of Seattle's water system is one of the best water systems in the nation."

The 16-inch pipe involved in Tuesday's break was 83 years old, but officials say that's actually fairly young by water pipe standards.

Seattle Public Utilities says there are more 1,800 miles of water pipe under Seattle -- laid out in a straight line, it would stretch from here to Wichita, Kansas. The youngest pipes were installed this year, while the oldest were installed in the late 1800s.

More than half of all city pipes -- like the one that broke -- are cast iron, meaning they can't flex when the earth naturally moves around them. Sometimes, there's no warning such as a loss in water pressure or small leaks before they break. Blackwell says the pipe that broke was in really good shape, and they still don't know why it failed, adding there is a good chance they may never know.

The one thing that saved nearby University Village from flooding was that a couple of years ago, they installed all new pipes and drains. Not one store was damaged.