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Fixing pipes needs to be part of the state water plan

The idea of conservation is to use less than you are currently using. When a large part of your water usage is due to leaks and losses, any sensible plan for conservation should start with addressing the underlying issues causing those leaks.

About 40 percent of the pipes supplying Houston’s water are still in use years past their life expectancy with some dating back nearly a century to the era of the Ford Model T and 2-cent stamp.

When last year’s historic drought and searing 100-degree temperatures put added pressure on the city’s aging infrastructure, it sprouted 11,000 leaks. Some of these ruptured pipes gushed for days and weeks.

The city lost or could not account for 19 percent of its water in the 2011 fiscal year that ended in June. That amount escalated in September and October of last year when about one-fourth of the city’s water was being lost, records obtained by the Houston Chronicle showed.

“We don’t need that much water running down a rat hole,” said Dale Thompson, a Houston engineer who has served on several water district boards. “For instance, I saw crews patch the same short stretch of Gessner near my home about five or six times this past year.”

[…]

According to recently released city records, about 40 percent, or 3,000 miles, of the pipelines winding through Houston have already been used longer than 50 years – which industry experts say is the average life expectancy for a pipe.

The city has no idea of the exact age of the bulk of these pipes – except that they are well past their prime.

A third of the city’s pipelines – some 2,500 miles – had their date of installation accidentally omitted when handwritten data was converted to new records about 50 or 60 years ago, authorities said.

Houston is not the only community reaching a critical juncture where it needs to replace aging infrastructure inherited from previous generations. The American Water Works Association released a report this year that warns $1 trillion will be needed to replace America’s aging pipelines over the next 25 years.

Ari Copeland, a water engineer with the association, said municipal governments don’t want to deal with the high cost of digging up and replacing these old lines. “Some in New England date to the 1800s and are still made of wood,” Copeland said.

That Trib story from last week about conserving water discussed fixing broken pipes as part of the overall picture. The reason municipalities don’t like having to deal with this is because of the large capital costs. It’s truly unfortunate that a few billion dollars to begin to address this issue wasn’t part of the original stimulus package of 2009 and hasn’t been seriously discussed since then, but there’s nothing we can do about that now. What we can do in Texas is insist that there be a provision for helping cities pay for repairs and improvements to their water infrastructure as part of the state’s overall water plan. Losing water needlessly like this costs everybody.

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