As Old Pipes, Sewers Crumble, So Could The Nation'S Cities : LUSENET : Grassroots Information Coordination Center (GICC) : One Thread

As Old Pipes, Sewers Crumble, So Could The Nation'S Cities Source: Dayton Daily News Publication date: 2000-06-18

Improvements of up to $1 trillion delayed WASHINGTON - When 25 million gallons of water cascaded through downtown Cleveland in January, closing some of the city's busiest streets for a week, an expensive national problem became harder to ignore.

A cast-iron pipe, parts of which had been carrying drinking water since 1895, unexpectedly gave out, crushing an antique section of brick sewer.

Getting old water and sewer pipes out of the ground before they collapse could cost communities across the United States $1 trillion over the next 20 years. Lobbyists have begun trying to interest Congress in footing the bill.

"There are many, many pipes in the country that have been in the ground 100 years," said Steve Allbee, an Environmental Protection Agency official .

In community after community, he said, digging up old pipes has been a lower priority than accommodating new development and upgrading plants to keep up with federal standards.

"We're deferring expenditures that we should be making, and that's been going on for about 10 years," he said.

Meanwhile, time takes its toll.

Across the country, Allbee said, many wastewater treatment plants were built at roughly the same time - in the 1970s and early 1980s - with roughly a 30- to 40-year life span.

Those plants connect to underground pipes whose 50-year average life spans are ending because they were laid during the postwar building booms of the 1950s and 1960s. Some areas have even older pipes designed for a time when office buildings were shorter, water pressure was lower and roads carried lighter loads.

Allbee points to Ohio as typical and a state where local water and sewer expenditures are well-documented.

In Ohio, he estimates, water and sewer fees will increase from an average of $568 per household in 1997 to $793 in 2009 and nearly $1,000 by 10 years after that. Nationally, he expects similar increases, with the inflation-adjusted cost of water rising 2.3 percent per year and the cost of sewer service rising 2.9 percent per year.

Local water authorities have to budget for pipe replacement, as well as complying with new regulations covering radon, arsenic, radionuclides and microbes.

"The federal government has devoted a lot of time and effort developing safe water regulations and higher and higher standards for the quality of water coming out of our treatment plants. Then you're taking that high-quality water and it's going into pipes that are internally corroded or in disrepair," said Julius Ciaccia, Cleveland water commissioner.

-- Martin Thompson (, June 19, 2000

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