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Aging Water Mains

A pipeline in the Goldfields Water Supply Sche...
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Considering how important a fresh supply of water is to all of us, it is quite amazing just how old some of the pipes that deliver water really are. A recent article in the NYTimes discusses the impending infrastructure deficit – particularly in water.

Aging of Water Mains Is Becoming Hard to Ignore – NYTimes.com

With many systems showing their age, the American Water Works Association has termed this “the dawn of the replacement era.” Many localities find themselves having to replace miles and miles of pipe for the first time — a burden that is especially acute in poorer, older industrial areas with shrinking populations, where such work would require higher-than-average water-rate increases on the residents who remain.

When it comes to pipes, newer is not necessarily better, the association has found. The oldest cast-iron pipes, dating to the late 1800s, have an average useful life of about 120 years. For cast- iron pipes installed in the 1920s, that drops to about 100 years. And pipes put in after World War II have an average life of only around 75 years. The upshot is that all three vintages of pipe will need replacement in a short stretch of time.

One of the critical questions to ask your city officials is, “do you have a plan for upgrades to aging water infrastructure?” In many cases it is better to leave it in the ground and wait for it to fail, rather than “proactively” digging it up.  These projects can cost a lot of money, it is important for cities to build good reserves for repairs and replacement of pipes, because sometimes opportunities arise that need to be capitalised on.

Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas P.Eng. ENV SP, is the author of UrbanWorkbench.com and Director of Engineering at the City of Revelstoke in the Interior of British Columbia, Canada. If I post something here that you find helpful as you navigate the world of engineering, planning and building communities, that’s wonderful. But when push comes to shove: This is my personal blog. The views expressed on these pages are mine alone and not those of my employer.