Water Infrastructure Falling Apart Nation-wide

Water statistics: 2.5% of all water is fresh (drinkable), 69% of fresh water is locked up in glaciers and ice caps, in the USA 37% (of 127 trillion gallons) is used for irrigation, 1,847 gallons to produce 1 lb beef, 35.7 gallons to make 1 egg, 400 gallons/day/avg home in USA

Water used in energy production (power plants need large quantities of water): 900 gallons of water per MWh of nuclear power electricity, 585 gallons per MWh fossil fuel electricity

Calling All Plumbers

Nicholas S. Wigginton. 17 Feb 2012.Science vol 335.

Water infrastructure is in dire need of rebuilding and modernization for economic and safety. Leaking pipes result in the loss of 7 billion gallons of clean, treated drinking water every day in the United States alone. Water distribution networks are a hodgepodge of aging original pipes, replacement pipes, and pipes made from new materials; moreover, external pressures change over time. It is therefore difficult to predict when a system—let alone an individual pipe—will fail.  Water Res. 10.1016/ j.watres.2012.01.036  (2012).

A Severe Winter Breaks Budgets as Well as Pipes

Feb 16, 2014. Jesse McKinley.New York Times.

  • Syracuse has had at least 100 main breaks since the start of the year, a large number for a city of 145,000.  Mayor Stephanie A. Miner said “You don’t cut ribbons for new water mains, but that’s really what matters,” she said.
  • Detroit, the largest American municipality ever to enter bankruptcy, was already suffering from an aging, neglected infrastructure; Darryl Latimer, deputy director of the city’s Water and Sewerage Department, said that after a wave of retirements, the department’s staff, like the budget for water main repair, was not up to the job. To those burdens, this winter added persistent subzero temperatures and heavy snow, contributing to about 500 water main breaks in January, compared with about 300 a year earlier, forcing the city to hire outside crews to try to keep up.  The major break last week in Detroit, in a pipe dating to about 1890, sent water gushing through gaps in the pavement in front of a grocery store, and submerged streets in a 12-block radius to a depth of as much as two feet.
  • Baltimore. 353 water mains ruptured in January, one-third as many as in all of 2013.
  • New York. A 137-year-old main that popped in Lower Manhattan turned some of the most stylish streets in Greenwich Village into a temporary Venice.
  • Boston. A break in Boston’s Chinatown nearly swallowed a public works truck.

“Cities still do not have a lot of cash available, so this particular storm season is having a really severe impact on their budgets,” said James Brooks, a director for community development and infrastructure at the National League of Cities. “We’ve also had many years of disinvestment in things like roads, bridges, water and sewer systems, which makes them more vulnerable.”

Cold weather is tough on water systems because as the water chills, metal pipes contract. At the same time, frost and ice cause the ground to expand, adding pressure.

In addition to the direct costs to governments, harsh weather can also mean lower tax revenue by slowing economic activity.

Detroit’s water drains away from ravaged pipes

Dec 11, 2013. Corey Williams. Associated Press.

Modern technology can help track leaks but that’s an expense that Detroit, with a network of 100-year-old cast iron pipes, can’t afford.

As Detroit goes through the largest municipal bankruptcy in U.S. history, the city’s porous water system illustrates how some of its resources are still draining away even as it struggles to stabilize its finances and provide basic services.

More than 30,000 buildings stand vacant in neighborhoods hollowed out by Detroit’s long population decline, vulnerable to metal scavengers who rip out pipes, leaving the water to flow. The city’s water system has no way of tracking the leaks, and the water department doesn’t have enough workers to check every structure. Sometimes, the water can run for years.

The city’s five water treatment plants pump more than 600 million gallons of drinking water across Detroit’s 139 square miles each day, billing residents for the volume used.  It costs a $250,000 a day to produce that much drinking water ($400 per million gallons), and $500,000 a day for sewage treatment ($800 per million gallons).

In a city with an estimated $18 billion debt, the department has a debt of about $5.9 billion. The water department has lost more than 400 jobs in the last few years, and one study has proposed cutting half of the 1,700 positions left.  Detroit, which once had 1.8 million people, is now down to about 700,000.


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