The Cost of a Necessity

The New York Times continues its coverage of drinking water and water resources in its Toxic Waters feature. In this week’s story, the focus turns to the costs of infrastructure maintenance. As mentioned in previous posts, upgrades to water systems are often ignored, in large part due to the fact that the pipes are underground (out of sight, out of mind?).

Water fees are rarely raised, and, when they are, the fees are usually protested by local residents. Municipalities have the odds stacked against them in many ways when trying to take care of this hidden infrastructure.

The New York Times article tells the story of DC’s struggle with keeping up with repairs to its water network. George Hawkins, the head of the city’s Water and Sewer Authority, has been forced to play a game of wack-a-mole with the water pipes, having to deal with a main line break almost daily. But funding for repairs is running out – and the public is not open to raising fees. The article reports:

For decades, these systems — some built around the time of the Civil War — have been ignored by politicians and residents accustomed to paying almost nothing for water delivery and sewage removal. And so each year, hundreds of thousands of ruptures damage streets and homes and cause dangerous pollutants to seep into drinking water supplies.

Mr. Hawkins — who at 49 has the bubbling energy of a toddler and the physique of an aging professor — told the crowd that the average age of the city’s water pipes was 76, nearly four times that of the oldest city bus. With a smile, he described how old pipes have spilled untreated sewage into rivers near homes.

“I don’t care why these pipes aren’t working!” one of the residents yelled. “I pay $60 a month for water! I just want my toilet to flush! Why do I need to know how it works?”

Communities across the US are dealing with these issues – and the Lehigh Valley is no exception.

RenewLV’s Regional Water Initiative seeks to promote a regional approach to water and wastewater resource management. Check out our Regional Water page, and if you’re interested in knowing more about our work, sign-up to receive our e-mail updates on our Join Us page.

About Beata Bujalska

Beata Bujalska is the former Campaign Coordinator for Renew Lehigh Valley. She currently lives in Panama, a place that fascinates her due to (among other reasons) its recent development boom.

Posted on March 16, 2010, in Public Infrastructure, Water and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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