The article “City lost millions to water leaks” (Page A1, Dec. 30) was a timely discussion of our aging water/sewer system. One question in the article jumped out: “We have to ask why we have so many leaks. Is it all drought-related, or did we let our infrastructure fall into such a state of disrepair that it is now coming back to haunt us?” The answer is “yes,” partially related to the drought, and “absolutely yes” to aging infrastructure.
Houston’s water/sewer system is composed of more than 14,000 miles of water and sewer lines. Included in the Public Works & Engineering Department’s performance goals for FY 2012 are plans to replace 600,000 feet of pipe, clean 2 million feet of pipe and repair 9,000 water line and 2,000 sewer line failures. Every year, the city is spending $52 million repairing an aging system.
The city is also spending $2 billion over the next five years on complete replacement of old water and sewer lines. By federally mandated accounting standards, our water and sewer system is approximately 75 percent beyond its useful life. Shifting soils related to the prolonged drought placed strains on the water lines and simply resulted in more water line breaks than usual; however, the age of the system will continue to be an issue.
Over the past two years, infrastructure challenges have clearly moved to the forefront and city government has taken important steps to deal with them. In 2010, to address rising operating and maintenance costs in the water/sewer system, water rates were brought up to a level matching the actual cost of service. Next, voters passed Proposition One, now known as Rebuild Houston, in order to provide dedicated funding for street and drainage infrastructure. Rebuild Houston’s “pay-as-you-go” feature will allow the city to replace approximately 70 to 75 percent of existing street and drainage infrastructure – without issuance of municipal debt.
Infrastructure is the very foundation of our communities and well-built and well-maintained infrastructure translates into improved quality of life, enhanced public safety and increased economic opportunity. If we don’t pay enough attention to our infrastructure problems now, a broken and outdated system will force us to pay a much bigger price in the future.
Stephen C. Costello, Houston City Council member At-Large Position 1
He sent an email out with the letter as well. Just another reminder that the Renew/ReBuild Houston drainage fee and that water rate hike that the usual nihilistic suspects whined about were done for a very good reason.