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Innovation

Despite Civil War-era pipes, Americans resist water infrastructure renovation

A significant water line bursts, on average, every two minutes in the United States, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor on

A significant water line bursts, on average, every two minutes in the United States, according to a New York Times analysis of data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

In a new report under the headline, "Saving U.S. Water and Sewer Systems Would Be Costly," a Washington public official -- George Hawkins, who heads the District of Columbia Water and Sewer Authority -- is profiled as an environmentalist who must persuade residents to accept higher water rates so the utility can replace antiquated pipes.

How antiquated, you ask? In Washington, there is a pipe break every day. And according to EPA data, thousands of water and sewer systems across the country may be too old to function properly -- so old, in fact, that some were built during the Civil War.

The situation: People have grown accustomed to extremely inexpensive water delivery and sewage disposal, leaving no funds to maintain the system that makes those services possible.

The problem: Pipes are bursting every day, damaging streets and homes and allowing sewage to seep into drinking water supplies.

Hawkins, in the report:

"People pay more for their cellphones and cable television than for water. You can go a day without a phone or TV. You can't go a day without water."

The rub: Officials in cities such as Los Angeles, Indianapolis, Sacramento and Washington, D.C. have tried to raise rates. But residents won't give in.

The battle has even reached the Obama administration. In last year's stimulus bill, federal lawmakers allocated more than $10 billion in a "trust fund" for water infrastructure programs. (See the full breakdown of the bill here; see the EPA's current budget here.)

But as with public transit systems, regular people don't feel that a rate hike is necessary to close the gap.

Clearly, it's difficult to motivate residents when most folks don't pay attention to water and sewer systems until they're broken.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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