Aging Water System in the U.S. is a Catastrophe Waiting to Happen

Water has been a major topic in the news for the past two months. California is in the midst of a severe drought that could easily see the state running out of water within 12-18 months and Detroit residents are left without water due to being unable to pay the high water bills. These situations have been created by a combination of problems including Mother Nature and politics. However, little attention has been given to one major cause: our nationís aging infrastructure.

The oldest iron water pipes in the nation date back to the 1800s. They were designed to last at most 120 years. For many cities around the nation, their water system was installed in the 1920s with pipes expected to last about 100 years. For those with systems installed during WWII, the expected lifespan is around 75 years. While many newer constructions have updated systems, city water grids across the nation are flowing on borrowed time.

The system is already showing the strain.

The EPA notes that there are nearly a quarter of a million water main breaks each year. This averages out to about one break every two minutes. These breaks have led to mudslides in California and sinkholes in Florida. The breaks, as well as leaky pipes, waste millions of gallons of treated drinking water. For drought risk areas in the southwest, this puts a greater strain on water resources already exacerbated by the environment.

While the Federal government has provided some funding to repair the water system, most of the cost has fallen on state and local governments. This cost is eventually passed on to customers. In recent years, water rates have increased higher than the rate of inflation, just as household income has fallen. In a note of irony, as more customers participate in conservation efforts, either by force as in the case of drought stricken California or by choice to lower the expense, water companies are getting less revenue to maintain and upgrade the infrastructure.

This confluence of factors is highlighted best in the crisis facing Detroit.

The recent shutoffs to thousands of poor Detroit residents have caused an international outcry, including pleas to the United Nations to step in. The city has been in a steady state of decline for a decade, which has resulted in a mass exodus of the cityís population. Thousands of homes have been abandoned, demolishing the tax base. The cityís water infrastructure, built in the 1920s, is pressured by age, extreme winters and pipes that remain unused in empty homes. As a result, the water company has increased rates nearly 120 percent in the last decade to cover costs. Now thousands of poor customers and small businesses are forced to bear the brunt of the expense.

The current political climate runs on crisis. From the budget to infrastructure, the current Congress has been incredibly shortsighted in its dealings with the nation’s problems. Early next week, the Senate is expected to vote on a House bill to extend the Highway Trust Fund until May. Itís a temporary fix to a problem that is tied up in a myriad of political complications that essentially boil down to no one willing to take unpopular but necessary action to fix our aging infrastructure. If passed, the bill will keep funding flowing for current projects and, most importantly, keep the fund from going bankrupt prior to the midterm elections.

The bill does not address the nearly $1 trillion needed to repair and upgrade our nationís water infrastructure, including the nationís inland waterways and ports.

With millions of miles of pipes already long past their expected lifespan, and more reaching their expiration date in the coming decade, this is a catastrophe in waiting. It is also one that is entirely preventable. However, it will take the political will to take unpopular but necessary action.

Like with everything else, it will have to wait until after the next electionÖor perhaps the next one after that.

Photo via Thinkstock

140 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven5 months ago

thanks for the article.

Donna F.
Donna F.2 years ago

noted

Vivianne Mosca-Clark

If we all lived in a world that was more fair then greedy...we could have a better government.
The very expressive comments by one person has a lot of holes in it. He seems to have left out a lot of information.
Voting has been being controlled by the republican party. The news has been bought by this same party. So if you are making a different party to make real changes for the people...they don't get covered and if they make any headway...they get harassed by the law.
There is a controlling factor...and we are slowly getting closer to who they are.
Please remember there are way more of 'us' there there is of 'them'. 7.5 Billion people have some rights also.

Cedar F.
Past Member 2 years ago

We waste trillions of dollars on wars that we should not have started to deal with horrible criminal acts. Now we have billions in health care costs and Congress passed some kind of compromise bill to try to take better care of wounded veterans. Think of all the improvements we could have made to our infrastructure if we hadn't wasted all those dollars in Iraq & Afghanistan (not to mention Halliburton & Blackwater).

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Taking care of the infrastructure of our country is Blowing it??

You live in a COUNTRY of many people David. Not everyone is going to agree on what it gets spent on. Some are wildly happy if we spend it on the military and some are not.
Sometimes what it needs to be spent on is more important than individual biases.

So should the fire department only go to people’s houses who pay a monthly fee?? And If I live next to someone who doesnt wish to pay the montly fee I should just be happy to let his fire burn my house down too?? Should we do the same thing with police?? How about maintianing highways………should only rich peiople have highways maintained going into their own communities??

Get over your selfishness David. You have a wonderful standard of living in this country. Much of that was payed for with tax dollars. Be careful what you ask for. if we do what you sugested there will never be enough money for wars. Half the country doesnt like war.

Janis K.
Janis K.2 years ago

Thanks for sharing.

Mary B.
Mary B.2 years ago

David F....maybe you wouldn't feel that way if it was YOUR property ruined today In LA..You would be screaming SO loud about why it happened and why the government didn't fix this in the first place...You want it both ways so you aren't inconvenienced.......

David F.
David F.2 years ago

Syd. H: agreed, how about instead of the central government blowing all the money as you described, they allow the rightful owners to keep their own money to spend or contribute as they feel fit.

Alan Lambert
Alan Lambert2 years ago

Maybe the LA flood will bring this closer to the forefront.

Syd Henley
Syd H.2 years ago

Continued:

By using intelligence when voting, the ordinary people of both America and Britain would end up not having their tax money wasted on unnecessary wars, and billions of pounds or dollars being spent on foreign aid that invariably does not reach the people in real need in Africa, Asia and other places, but is used to provide extra luxuries for the dictators in those countries and build ever bigger armed forces to defend their despicable regimes.
Instead, our tax dollars and pounds could be spent on Health care, Housing, Pensions and infrastructure projects such as better water supplies, cleaner and cheaper energy, railways, roads and communications.