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The 16-inch-diameter water main that ruptured, spewing water 12 feet in the air and flooding part of University Village on Tuesday was 73 years old and took crews about 10 hours to replace, Seattle Public Utilities (SPU) officials said.

Tony Blackwell, SPU’s director of Water Transmission & Distribution, said an official cause of the roughly basketball-sized hole in the pipe hadn’t been determined — and might never be.

That’s not unusual in events like these. Many factors can combine to contribute to a break like this, so Blackwell wouldn’t speculate.

The pipe’s age may have played a role; a rusty-looking crack ran along the length of the removed section. But the decades-old piping is middle-aged, compared with older pipes in the city, which date to 1890 in some parts of downtown, Blackwell said. The age, type and size of piping isn’t consistent from one area to another, but older sections of the city tend to have older water systems.

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Utility workers upgrade aging infrastructure regularly, especially when projects like the seawall replacement along Elliott Bay and the new 520 bridge require and fund it, Blackwell said.

Emergency repairs, like the one Tuesday, are paid for out of a fund the department has set up for such unplanned events. About 30 SPU first responders are on call around the clock to deal with such incidents, Blackwell said.

The Water Transmission and Distribution division has around 140 full-time employees, and it is charged with making sure Seattleites have fresh drinking water and Seattle firefighters have enough water to put out fires.

Workers are still evaluating how much water leaked in the 30 minutes the pipe was gushing before the main was turned off, Blackwell said.

Only three businesses — a hair salon, a restaurant and an auto-supply shop — were affected for the full 10 hours of the water shut-off. A new crack-proof, cast-iron pipe replaced the broken section, and water was turned back on around 2:10 a.m. Wednesday.

Colin Campbell: 206-464-2033 or

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