Saying Goodbye to 2016 – and a Quarter Million Water Main Breaks

By Dr. Mark LeChevallier – December 22, 2016 – Comment

As I think back on the state of infrastructure in 2016, and look forward to what awaits in the coming year, I’m bolstered by the many great strides that have been made. More discussions are happening around infrastructure needs but know that I shouldn’t be too quick to raise the champagne glasses. Just look at what a year can mean:

•             There are approximately 240,000 water main breaks in the U.S. every year, that’s over 700 per day! (per The American Society of Civil Engineers)

•             Corrosions of water and wastewater systems in the U.S. cost about $50.7 billion annually.

•             And every year, breaks and leaks in pipes waste approximately 1.7 trillion gallons of water.

These statistics are staggering to say the least. And if you really want to gain appreciation for the costs of infrastructure erosion, take a look at how quickly the numbers are climbing on this Water Main Break Clock.

In this blog and elsewhere, the water community continually discusses the pillars of providing solutions to our water infrastructure crisis – those including a collaborative effort between the private and public sectors, as well as among municipalities, states and the federal government. And we talk in depth about the need of public awareness.

But during this time of new year’s resolutions, I’d like to suggest everyone resolve to also look at our aging, eroding infrastructure from another perspective: repairing and replacing water systems is not a cost, it’s an investment.

First, consider that an investment in replacing pipes where it is feasible and affordable could mean more reliable systems and fewer repairs for a span of decades. One report states that the average lifespan of an iron pipe in the city of Boston is 83 years. Certainly, at an estimated cost of $1 trillion to replace all the water pipes in the U.S., we can’t just replace everything all at once. But, by replacing the ones in most need of repair, we could be avoiding significant costs down the road.

Secondly, according to the U.S. Conference of Mayors, for every dollar invested in public water and sewer infrastructure services, approximately $8.97 is added to the national economy. In other words, there is an economic return on investment in water infrastructure.

Lastly, we should think of fixing infrastructure as an investment in the current and future health of the people in our communities. We often speak of illness and disease caused by poor water systems in third-world countries, but we are not immune to similar issues in the U.S.

In conclusion, I reference a recent Nielsen poll reporting that “spending less, saving more” is one of the top four personal new year’s resolutions. I say, let’s apply a similar resolve to our thinking when it comes to our aging pipes! Although there will be costs up front to fix the problems, the savings that lie ahead can be substantial.