U.S. Senate hearing on our aging water infrastructure

[ Even though conventional oil production has been on a plateau since 2005, there is no sense of alarm or urgency to try to fix infrastructure before oil is rationed and not enough exists to replace or repair it. Some day people will ask why energy was used to build skyscrapers, keep roads smooth as a babies bottom in the empty deserts of Nevada, and a million other non-essential uses, instead of fixing dams and replacing century old water delivery systems.  After all, if our hydroelectric dams fall apart, there won’t be any electricity to power the elevators in Trump towers, without water delivery systems we’ll all be drinking lead, giardia and cholera laced water, grow less food as irrigation systems fall apart, be unable to transport goods on inland rivers as locks fail, be unable to cool power plants and have to shut them down, or treat and get rid of sewage wastes.

Alice Friedemann   www.energyskeptic.com  author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation, 2015, Springer]

USEPA. April 2010. Aging Water Infrastructure. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Science matters newsletter Vol 1 #1

USEPA. April 2010. Aging Water Infrastructure. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, EPA Science matters newsletter Vol 1 #1

Senate 113-225. July 25, 2013. Aging Water Infrastructure. United States Senate hearing, 68 pages.


BRIAN SCHATZ, U.S. SENATOR FROM HAWAII.  Today the Subcommittee on Water and Power is holding an oversight hearing on aging water infrastructure in the United States. In 2008 this subcommittee held a similar hearing and we learned then that the maintenance backlog for the Bureau of Reclamation’s water facilities alone exceeded $3.2 billion. Unfortunately this situation hasn’t improved much in the last 5 years. In fact we just witnessed a near disaster right here in the Nation’s capital when water in Prince George’s County was nearly shut off to tens of thousands of residents during the hottest week of the summer due to an aging water main that was about to collapse. This incident has brought much needed attention to today’s hearing topic.

Just this year the American Society of Civil Engineers gave the United States a D or worse for nearly every water infrastructure category on its report card. This is not acceptable because the impacts of a failing water system can be profound. Dam failures pose a significant risk to the safety of our communities and deteriorating water treatment facilities can lead to water borne illnesses.

The Bureau of Reclamation is the Nation’s largest wholesale water supplier serving more than 31 million people, providing irrigation water for 10 million acres of farm land and is the second largest producer of hydroelectric power in the West.

The Army Corps of Engineers maintains over 700 dams with 353 hydropower generating units that can provide up to 25 percent of our country’s hydropower.

As Chair of this subcommittee I often think about the connection between energy and water. The topic of aging infrastructure is a critical component of the energy/water nexus. So much of our water infrastructure is tied to energy.

Hydropower is the obvious example, but water infrastructure is also responsible for irrigation which helps to grow our biofuels and is used for cooling at power plants and used to extract and move energy resources such as coal, oil and gas. When our water infrastructure begins to break down not only do we lose water through leaky pipes, we also waste energy. So aging water infrastructure quickly becomes a topic of concern for those of us interested in the production of energy and energy efficiency.

The economic impacts of unreliable water delivery and waste water treatment services increase costs to businesses and to households. According to a report from the American Society of Civil Engineers, between now and 2020 the cumulative loss to the Nation’s GDP would be over $400 billion. Disruptions to electric generation due to aging water infrastructure will also increase the cost of electricity to those states and regions that use Federal hydropower.

Many challenges exist in managing and financing the upgrades and repairs needed to mitigate the impacts of aging water infrastructure. Further, severe weather events are increasing stresses on existing facilities. Floods will strain waste water systems and ongoing drought will mean reduced hydroelectric power generation.

LOWELL PIMLEY, Deputy Commissioner of Operations, Bureau of Reclamation, Department of the Interior

Maintaining our infrastructure is becoming more costly over time due to the conditions of some of our components, cost increases in the broader economy and the need for additional facilities, rehabilitation, replacement and extraordinary maintenance.

Most of Reclamation’s major dams, reservoirs and hydroelectric plants and irrigation systems are 60 or more years old. A facility’s age is not the sole measure of its condition, but the condition of each component really is the central factor in the long term maintenance needs of the general asset.

Our large portfolio of water resource infrastructure constantly presents new maintenance, replacement and modification challenges. The aging process will inevitably lead to increased pressure on Reclamation and our 350 operating partners’ budgets. As such Reclamation and the operating entities anticipate infrastructure maintenance needs will continue to grow over time.

We are the Nation’s largest wholesale water supplier, and the 348 reservoirs we administer have a total storage capacity of 245 million acre-feet of water. We bring water to more than 31 million customers and provide approximately 20 percent of western farmers with water to irrigate about 10 million acres of farmland. We are also the Nation’s second largest producer of hydroelectric power, generating more than 40 billion kilowatt-hours of energy each year. In the 111 years since Reclamation’s creation, the Federal government has invested almost $19 billion in original development costs for our facilities. In present value terms, the amount that the Federal government has spent to construct this infrastructure is estimated to be $94.5 billion.


The infrastructure that the Corps helps to maintain includes 705 dams, 14,700 miles of levees, 13,000 miles of coastal harbors and channels, 12,000 miles of inland waterways, 241 locks and hydropower plants at 75 sites with 353 generating units. These projects help provide protection and reduce risk to the Nation, facilitate approximately 2 billion tons of commerce to move on the Nation’s waterways and can provide up to 24 percent of the Nation’s hydropower.

Almost 60 percent of our locks are at least 50 years old. Almost half of our dams at our hydropower plants are more than 50 years old.


As the Nation’s dams, levees, divergent structures and other water resource infrastructure age, decision-makers are faced with the question of whether to operate Federal water projects under the current statutory framework or to alter existing policies to facilitate the repair, rebuilding or transfer of those assets. My testimony will focus on water resource infrastructure owned by the Federal Government. The Federal Government owns water resource facilities with a combined replacement value of about $352 billion. The Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers are the principle agencies charged with constructing and maintaining these investments, many of which are more than 50 years old.

The second anticipated challenge is financing. Several assessments have concluded that aging water resource infrastructure is likely to become a greater challenge over time due to increasing repair needs and expected flat or declining appropriations

Reservoir Storage Restrictions: According to the Corps and Reclamation, at least twelve federal reservoirs are currently operating at lower storage levels than designed as a result of dam safety concerns, some of which relate to aging infrastructure;

Hydropower Unavailability and Forced Outages: According to agency data, over all hydropower peak availability over the last 10 years was down by about 7% and 9% at Corps and Reclamation units, respectively. Forced outages for both agencies were also up over this same period.

Lock Unavailability: According to Corps data, lock unavailability, which often occurs due to repairs related to deteriorating infrastructure, has increased by approximately 45% over the last 20 years in terms of the number of lock outages and has increased by almost three-fold in terms of hours of repair.


The nation’s neglect of its water resources infrastructure threatens our long-term economic vitality and our national security. This infrastructure is aging and is not being upgraded to meet the demands of this century. Much of what we do every day and many of our economic successes are tied to the availability of water infrastructure. The gradual deterioration of what was once a world class water resources infrastructure can only have deleterious effects on the nation. To this end, I would like to make some points about the aging water infrastructure of the United States:

  1. There is no question that our water infrastructure is aging and that its condition is fragile. Study after study has made this clear. The impacts from having aging infrastructure are substantial and without action they will become critical. Because most of this infrastructure is out of sight and because many fine professionals work every day to keep it operating under difficult conditions, the full extent of the challenge we face is generally not understood by government officials, businesses, and the public.
  1. Climate change will exacerbate the impacts of this aging and will increase the potential for system disruptions and collapse. Climate change could be a ‘‘tipping point.’’
  1. There is a substantial link between the production of energy and the condition of the water resource infrastructure. In many cases these linkages are overlooked or are poorly understood. Energy needs water and water needs energy.
  1. The nation must take steps to address the aging infrastructure problem. It is another case of ‘‘pay me now’’ or ‘‘pay me a lot more later.’’ A failure to act on aging infrastructure will have serious consequences now and will increasingly burden our children and grandchildren. Delay only drives up costs. Priorities must be established based on the risks to public safety and the national economy. A fix-as-fails approach is unsustainable and short sighted.


The nation’s water infrastructure is found in every city and village across our land. It is the dams that provide storage for floodwaters, water supply, recreation, hydropower, downstream navigation, and environmental stewardship. It is in the engineered rivers that carry millions of tons of cargo from farm fields, fuel extraction, and factories to ports and facilities and that drive domestic and international trade. It is the irrigation canals that carry millions of gallons of water to many of the same farm fields. It is the levees, coastal barriers and other flood mitigation activities that provide security for those living in areas at risk of flooding and hurricanes.

The extent of this infrastructure becomes apparent in examining the statistics on the numbers and nature of structures. However, true appreciation emerges in recognizing the diversity behind these numbers. Dams vary in size from the giant (Grand Coulee) to the small (local recreation dams). Major locks and dams on the Mississippi provide 1200 foot chambers for transiting vessels, while small facilities facilitate commerce and recreation on rivers like the Monongahela and the Ouachita. Water and wastewater treatment facilities serve millions of our citizens in metropolitan areas but also provide support to the residents of small villages.

The statistics describe a massive national asset base:

  1. 87,000 dams in the National Inventory of Dams and tens of thousands smaller dams that are not. The average age of the 87,000 dams is 52 years. Of 14,000 high hazard dams, 2000 are deficient. More than half of the 2525 hydroelectric dams regulated by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) are older than 80 years.
  2. At least 40,000 miles of levees. Because, in the case of many levees, the current structures were built on top of or integrated within earlier structures, it is difficult to accurately determine their ages. The legacy of many of the major structures dates to the late 19th or early 20th century. Reports by FEMA and the US Army Corps of Engineers indicate serious deficiencies in many of the structures.
  3. 8,116 miles of irrigation canals for which the federal government is responsible and thousands of miles of canals operated by local sponsors.
  4. 54,000 community drinking water systems with over one million miles of pipe. In 2002, EPA estimated that by 2020 the useful life of 9% of the nation’s drinking and waste water piping will have expired and 36% will be in poor or very poor condition. There are some 240,000 water main breaks each year. Even the National Capital Region is not immune.
  5. 14,780 municipal waste water treatment facilities. The normal life span of such facilities varies by type but is in the range of 25 years for mechanical-electrical components and 50 years for structures. As with drinking water piping, there is no national inventory of wastewater piping but estimates range from 700,000 to 800,000 miles, much of which was installed immediately following World War II and its now at the end of its useful life.  The growing need to develop adequate storm water capacity adds to the challenge. (Capacity limitations of 19th century storm water drainage caused a significant flood in the Washington DC Federal triangle in 2006
  6. 12,000 miles of commercially navigable channels, with over 200 lock chambers.8 More than 50% of the locks and dams have exceeded their design life, and many are over 70 years old.
  7. 300 commercial harbors and 600 smaller harbors. The viability of these facilities is a function of the maintenance of adequate channel and harbor width and depth. The growing size of modern vessels exceeds the current depths of many coastal ports and inadequate dredging has reduced the capacity of many inland ports.

Grading the condition of the water infrastructure

Every four years, ASCE sends the nation a Report Card for America’s Infrastructure, which grades the current state of its national infrastructure on a scale of A through F. In 2013, ASCE’s most recent Report Card gave the nation’s infrastructure an overall grade of D+, a slight rise from the 2009 Report Card.

In the water arena all categories were rated at D or below except for ports which were rated C l. ASCE indicates that since 1998, grades in all categories have been near failing primarily due to delayed maintenance and underinvestment.

The cost to the nation to remediate identified deficiencies and support modernization of the national infrastructure by 2020 is in excess of $3.6 trillion.

Unfortunately, the exact condition of the infrastructure is not accurately known and aging continues. Recent reports on dams and levees indicate that in the case of levees both the exact location and condition of a substantial percentage of the national levee stock is unknown. In the case of dams, lack of funding for inspections and differences among standards applied by states call into question the uniformity and arguably the reliability of the assessments that are made. Some dams such as those related to mine tailings receive only cursory review emphasizing only the potential risks to miners and not necessarily to surrounding communities. Water and wastewater systems are buried, and even with sophisticated technologies, accurate assessment of their condition is difficult and costly to obtain.

Much of the national water infrastructure has exceeded its design life and some is approaching the century mark. Major levee failures such as those in New Orleans result in billions of dollars of damages. Dam failures in the past have resulted in significant loss of life. As was illustrated in the weeks following Superstorm Sandy, loss of water and wastewater systems can bring communities to their knees and shut down all economic activity. Offices are unable to open and factories are unable to produce. When flood structures fail or their capacity is exceeded, transportation corridors are closed and health and sanitation facilities become inaccessible.


According to the 2011 study, America’s Climate Choices, conducted by the National Research Council at the behest of U.S. Congress (P.L. 110-161), ‘‘. . .climate change is occurring, is very likely caused by human activities, and poses significant risks for a broad range of human and natural systems.’’ The study points out the potential for sea level rise and large storms to result in significant coastal erosion and for more intense rainfall to increase the probability of flooding in selected areas around the nation. The study notes that these threats make it ‘‘prudent to design the infrastructure for transportation, water, and utilities to withstand a range of weather extremes including intense rainfall flooding and drought scenarios. . .

  • A Federal Advisory Committee Draft Climate Assessment14, released earlier this year, found that:  ‘‘Summer droughts are expected to intensify in most regions of the U.S., with longer term reductions in water availability in the Southwest, Southeast, and Hawai’i [sic] in response to both rising temperatures and changes in precipitation.
  • Floods are projected to intensify in most regions of the U.S., even in areas where average annual precipitation is projected to decline, but especially in areas that are expected to become wetter, such as the Midwest and the Northeast.
  • Expected changes in precipitation and land use in aquifer recharge areas, combined with changes in demand for groundwater over time, will affect groundwater availability in ways that are not well monitored or understood.
  • Sea level rise, storms and storm surges, and changes in surface and groundwater use patterns are expected to challenge the sustainability of coastal freshwater aquifers and wetlands.’’
  • The assessment also reports that the ‘‘reliability of water supplies is being reduced by climate change in a variety of ways that affect ecosystems and livelihoods in many regions. . ..’’

The 2012 report by a task committee of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Managing the Risks of Extreme Events and Disasters to Advance Climate Change Adaptation, identifies many of the same impacts.

Growth in population will also influence the need for infrastructure activity. The U.S. Census Bureau currently projects that the population of the United States will increase by 27%, 85 million, between now and 2050.  This growth will increase the need for expansion and upgrading of much of the water infrastructure and, as indicated below, will increase the number of people at risk to floods and coastal storms. The aging infrastructure may well be both too old and too small.

In June 2013, the Federal Emergency Management Agency released a report indicating the increases in potential flooding across the United States that could result from climate change and population growth between now and 2100.16 ‘‘For the [contiguous US] riverine environment, the typical 1% annual chance floodplain area nationally is projected to grow by about 45%, with very large regional variations. The 45% growth rate is a median estimate implying there is a 50% chance of this occurring. . . 30% of these increases in flood discharge, SFHA, and base floodplain depth may be attributed to normal population growth, while approximately 70% of the changes may be attributed to the influence of climate change. . . for the coastal environment, under the assumption of a fixed shoreline, the typical increase in the coastal SFHA is projected to also be about 55% by the year 2100, again with very wide regional variability. The 55% increase is a median estimate so there is a 50- percent chance of this occurring.’’ Figure 3 provides the geographic distribution of these changes.

Climate and population change will have direct effects on our aging water infrastructure. Structures designed to protect against current or past flooding and coastal erosion threats may not be able to stand up against the forces of larger events or deal with the increased magnitude of these events. Increases in population, will in many cases require current water and wastewater systems to be not only upgraded but also to be sized to the increased demands that will be expected. Additional surface or subsurface storage may be required and older facilities may not be in a position to be modified or expanded. Major storm flows, which are currently stressing many of existing dams and levees, may increase even more under climate change and further threaten those that rely on these structures. Sea level rise is already affecting the US East and Gulf coasts.

Droughts will also increase the stress on water infrastructure. During droughts rivers run low and substantially increase the amount of dredging and other maintenance activities required in channels and at ports. Droughts result in severe stress on water supply systems, whether for agricultural or municipal and industrial use. They also increase the pressure for additional storage or expansion of the water supply storage in existing facilities.


There is a substantial link between water and energy. This should be recognized and addressed in in plans to deal with aging water infrastructure.

In 2012, the heads of 15 of the world’s largest National Academies met in to discuss important scientific issues facing the world community.  The ‘‘Energy and Water Linkage: Challenge to a Sustainable Future’’ was one of three topics addressed by the group. Following the meeting, in which I was fortunate enough to participate as a facilitator, the Academy heads signed a statement identifying the issues they had discussed. In this statement, they reported that:

  • Needs for affordable and clean energy, for water and adequate quantity and quality, and for food security will increasingly be the central challenges for humanity: these needs are strongly linked. . . It is critically important that planning and investment in energy and water infrastructure and associated policies take into account the interaction between water and energy. A systems approach based on specific regional circumstances and long-term planning is essential. Viewing each factor separately will lead to inefficiencies, added stress on water availability for food protection and for critical ecosystems, and a higher risk of major failures or shortages in energy supply.’’
  • They also noted that energy production requires water and that the production of water supplies in adequate amounts and quality requires energy. They pointed out that fossil fuel and nuclear power plants and solar thermal require large water withdrawals and some water consumption and indicated that even use of ‘‘increasingly important ‘unconventional sources’ such as tar sands gas hydrates in gas and oil and tight formations have substantial implications for quantity and quality of water. . .producing alternative transportation fuels, in particular biofuels. . . can involve substantial impacts on water resources and water quality’’ .

Our aging inland waterway infrastructure also has a significant tie to energy production. Twenty-two percent of the nation’s energy products are carried on inland waterways barges that are energy efficient. Inland waterways separate potentially volatile cargo from heavily populated areas. Operating as part of the national intermodal transportation system, waterways also provide alternative routes should problems occur with energy product movement on parallel systems such as pipelines and rail, increasing the resilience of the overall system and the resultant national security.

Hydropower production, although providing only 8 to 12 percent of the national energy pool, provides critical services in many parts of the country. 20th century development in the Tennessee Valley and in the Columbia basin relied on use of low cost hydroelectric power. Many communities are reliant on hydropower for base supply and many others for the peaking power necessary to meet electricity needs during periods of high demand. Many of the nation’s hydropower facilities are aging and, although carefully supervised by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and state agencies, require substantial and continuous attention. Again, where rate setting becomes political instead of true cost based, funding challenges will develop.


Filling the information gaps As a follow-up to Katrina, in 2009 a congressionally directed National Committee on Levee Safety reported that considerable attention needed to be paid to the development of an inventory of the nation’s levees and their conditions. Some work has been accomplished by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and FEMA in addressing levees under their oversight but the work is far from complete and no action has been taken by the Congress on recommendations of the National Committee on Levee Safety. The condition of tens of thousands of miles of levees in the US has yet to be assessed and many of these levees have yet to be precisely located.

Information about the condition of only 75% of the 87,000 dams has become part of a national inventory of these structures. We know where the dams are located and if their failure would pose a threat to those below the dams, but we have yet to complete thorough assessments of the condition of all dams. Some of these dams date to before the Civil War. On a positive note, the condition of the approximately 4000 dams under federal oversight has, for the most part been assessed and continues to be monitored, even if funds to deal with identified problems cannot be fully addressed. Four percent of dams are federally owned and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) provides oversight of an additional 2525 private and public dams.19 In 2007, Section 2032 of the Water Resources Development Act (PL 110-114) directed the President to, within two years, conduct an analysis of the vulnerability of the nation to flooding.

Such an analysis would identify the exposure—what is in the path of a potential flood or storm surge—and the vulnerability of affected communities to such events. Vulnerability reflects the ability of existing flood protection infrastructure to carry out the functions for which it was designed. No funds have been appropriated by Congress for this activity, in the nearly six years since the law was passed and, as a result, no analysis has taken place.

The Environmental Protection Agency has invested resources in gathering information about the condition of water and wastewater infrastructure and has prepared reports that identify the challenge the nations faces in drinking and waste water. Such analyses however represent only estimates and given that much of the infrastructure is below ground, there is considerable uncertainty with the completeness of the survey information.

The inland waterway community has suggested raising the tax on fuel use by their vessels to increase the amount of funding available in the Inland Waterway Trust Fund to carry out needed infrastructure renewal. Legislation to this end is currently being considered in the Water Resources Development Act, but even this self-taxing has opponents who see it as a violation of the ‘no new taxes’ principle.

Much of the infrastructure for ports and harbors is privately or non-federal government owned as opposed to being supported by the federal government. Various approaches have been used to successfully modernize the on-land infrastructure necessary to operate the ports. Funding of dredging to maintain channel depth and width is shared by the federal government and local sponsors and, where the federal government does not have plans for its share of the work, local sponsors must either assume the entire cost or live with the consequences of inefficiently sized channels.

Similarly a large percentage of dams are privately or non-federally owned. There are a few state loan or grant funding sources to rehabilitate dams and some federal funding through the Department of Agriculture Natural resources Conservation Service, but these funds usually only support state or municipally owned dams. Private owners, even the most conscientious ones, typically do not have the funding needed to do necessary safety upgrades.


The nation is faced with an aging water resources infrastructure and with resource significant requirements to properly maintain and upgrade this infrastructure, and to adapt it to the potential impacts of climate change and growth. Unless there are significant and rapid changes in the national economy and adjustment of long-standing responsibilities, it is unlikely that the federal government will be in a position to fund the needed maintenance, rehabilitation and upgrades. It is more likely that new approaches will have to be taken and that much of the burden will continue to rest at the local level. This fact must be recognized by all concerned.


Continuing to believe or to support beliefs that somehow enormous sums of money will be found by the federal government to completely eliminate this significant national backlog in the infrastructure is unrealistic and support of this belief is unethical. For example, the Senate version of the Water Resources Development Act contains provisions that would provide local levee districts access to $300 million annually for levee repairs. Given that the maintenance backlog is estimated to be over $50 billion, it would be foolish for levee districts across the country to believe that all they need do is wait until their turn for funding to deal with the infrastructure deficiencies they currently face. Similarly, putting off other actions such as price rises for services in the hope that they may later be found to be necessary, is unrealistic and deceptive. It should be made clear that federal resources that are available will go to those facilities where there is the highest national interest and need and where the return on investment is highest and the greatest risks to life and property exist.

The nation must take steps to address the aging infrastructure problem. A failure to act on aging infrastructure will have serious consequences now and will increasingly burden the future.

CHARLES KIELY, Assistant General Manager, District of Columbia Water & Sewer Authority 

DC Water serves the more than 17 million people who live, work and visit the District every year. We maintain and operate 1,350 miles of water pipe, over 3,700 valves, 4 pump stations, 5 reservoirs, 3 elevator water tanks, more than 9,300 public hydrants that deliver our current water across Washington, DC. The median age of the water system is over 78 years old with some pipes in service today that were installed before the American Civil War.

Once that water is used it is returned to our sewer system that is even older than the water system with a median age of 85 years old. The sewer system has 1800 miles of separated and combined water and storm water lines, 9 base water pumping stations, 16 storm water pumping stations, 12 inflatable dams and a swirl facility. The existing sanitary sewer system in the District dates back to 1810.

I have with me an actual section of tuberculated, unlined, cast iron main that we frequently encounter on our drinking water system to bring to the surface what lies deep along the ground in many areas across the country. Tuberculation is the cause of corrosion materials inside the pipe that accumulate over time. As these deposits grow they restrict the flow of water for everyday use and fire suppression. The tuberculated deposits can also impact the quality of the water we deliver and they promote microbiological activity and can cause discolored water and can also impact disinfection. This aging infrastructure that delivers water and sewer services is a vital resource to every home, business and facility in the District, including the Capitol. Our work also affects vital ecosystems and our rivers and waterways. Balancing the delivery of service, improvements in treatment and the cost to ratepayers is one of the largest challenges facing DC water today.

We are ramping up to replace 1 percent of this infrastructure per year, 3 times the rate of replacement in previous years, but still on a hundred year replacement cycle.

Unlike roads and bridges our extensive assets are very deep underground and problems can persist for many years without detection. Some may recall that DC Water was involved in emergency work recently at 14th Street where segments of the road fell down and actually collapsed the sewer that was constructed in 1897. All told the emergency repairs caused most of the intersection to be closed for 11 days.

Emergency repairs are costly and they do not rehabilitate or replace the 100-year-old assets that remain in the ground.

Moreover, extreme weather events place additional stress on the aging combined sewer system. For unusually intense rain events in the summer and fall of 2012 resulted in damaging overland flooding and sewer line backups in homes located in a section of the northeast boundary trunk sewer. This system originally constructed by the Federal Government in the late 1800s was identified as insufficient soon after its construction. More recent development and the associated increase in a previous area only exacerbated the problem.

DC Water is responsible for maintaining approximately 150,000 sewer laterals in public space and we replace approximately 400 per year. A sewer lateral is the underground pipe, typically four inches in diameter that connects the home or business to the main sewer line.

Disruptions from aging infrastructure are not limited to commercial areas downtown. Recently, an 8-inch water main break on a residential street washed out two manholes that extended 50 feet below the surface to a deep sewer. The restoration work took 31 days and ultimately cost our customers over $600,000. While the repair was taking place, DC Water had to run pumps and generators to bypass the sewer flow. The street was closed for over one month causing a major inconvenience to our customers in the neighborhood.



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