America’s Infrastructure is H2Old

This week’s blog is by Marilyn Hall, Water Conservation Coordinator for Athens-Clarke County, GA

It is no secret.  We had a water main break downtown last week.  Photos and videos were all over social media.  It was a big deal. To see how big of a deal it was I got off social media and googled “water main break Athens” and was amazed at the results.  Of the first 10 websites that popped up:

  • 5 reported on a main break in Athens, Ohio,
  • 3 reported on the College Avenue break here in Athens, Georgia,
  • 1 was about a main break in Oconee County, Georgia. (Our neighbor to the Southwest.), and
  • 1 was from a main break in Atlanta.

Then I googled “water main break” and limited the search to the last month. There were major breaks in Los Angeles, Bay City (MI), Cary (NC), Fort Lee (NJ), South Tampa (FL), Ossining (NY), Phoenix (AZ), Fort Worth (TX), Nashville, Detroit, the list goes on and on!  What is going on here?

It appears as if water main breaks are happening all over the country and are very common.  America’s water infrastructure is all worn out. According to the American Water Works Association:

  • The oldest cast iron pipes laid in the late 1800s usually last 120 years,
  • Pipes laid in 1920s must be replaced after 100 years, and
  • Pipes from the post-World War II boom wear out after 75 years.

The cost to replace America’s old pipes is about $1 trillion over next 30 years!  Since most of our infrastructure was laid before many of us were born, current generations have not had to pay huge amounts for infrastructure investment.  But that is going to have to change.  Here in Athens water rates pay for replacing aging water infrastructure, new water infrastructure to support increasing population, and new water treatment technologies for increased water quality.

We have invested in advanced water treatment technologies at The JG Beacham Drinking Water Treatment Plant and at all three of our Water Reclamation Facilities.  We are systematically replacing our oldest pipes as budget and scheduling allows.  (The College Avenue main was scheduled for replacement in January, after football season.  Imagine if it had broken on gameday!)  Every day I hear about “America’s Crumbling Infrastructure” and it is almost always about roads and bridges. Water infrastructure is hidden, “out of sight, out of mind”.  It is time everyone starts thinking about all those pipes that are underground and delivering life-giving water to our homes and businesses.  America must invest in replacement and maintenance of its water infrastructure.  The problem is not going away.

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