This month, the American Society of Civil Engineers published its annual Infrastructure Report Card. The extensive document lays bare America’s crumbling infrastructure, highlighting salient service delivery systems in dire need of repair. Nationwide water distribution networks are listed as a central area of concern. The ASCE gave these critical fixtures an overall grade of D. Why?
The ASCE points out that a majority of the one million pipes that deliver tap water to American families were installed during the early part of the 20th century, most carrying life spans of 75 to 100 years. These structures have long outlived their shelf lives and fail often. In fact, roughly 240,000 water mains give way each year, the organization found. Even those that manage to stand strong are liable to contaminate water supplies due to their pre-war design. Residents in cities across the country – most notably those in Flint, Michigan – have come face-to-face with this reality in recent years.
How can local, state and federal governments address America’s failing water distribution systems? It all comes down to funding, according to the ASCE. The group estimates that an influx of more than $105 billion is needed to replace and future-proof pipes. It also advises stakeholders to look into more robust conservation methods centered on aquifers and other groundwater sources, as various forces, both man-made and natural, threaten these essential reserves.
A handful of pioneering cities have offered up the blueprint for executing this work. For example, Lansing, Michigan, which lies 45 miles west of Flint, successfully swapped all of its lead-based service lines for copper models, Next City reported. This preemptive move has improved public health and prepared the city for further growth.