The Aging American Water Infrastructure

The Aging American Water Infrastructure

February 19, 2020

The water infrastructure in Pisgah Forest, NC and across the United States is rapidly aging. In fact, the American Society of Civil Engineers currently gives it a “D” grade. Clearly, our municipal water systems need work. But what is there to be done?

Here’s an overview of our water infrastructure as it currently exists and what you should know about the life cycle of water infrastructure materials.

Earning the D

There’s a long history of underground water infrastructure in the United States, and it was mainly installed during three time periods: the 1800s, between 1900 and 1945 and after 1945. Some of these pipes have already begun to fail as they’ve reached their lifespan limit, and experts believe others will start to fail at around the same time over the next couple decades, due to reasons such as age, corrosion, poor installation and improper design.

Part of the reason they’ll all fail at the same time despite being not at all the same age is that the lifespan of the materials being used grows shorter with each new cycle. The materials used for piping now are generally not as long-lasting as the materials that were used in ages past.

This was the subject of a study conducted by the American Water Works Association in 2001, which revealed that the oldest cast iron pipes in the United States were able to last about 120 years. These pipes were installed in the late 1800s. With the changes in manufacturing techniques and materials, different cast iron pipes from the 1920s were able to survive about 100 years. Pipes laid after World War II, meanwhile, have an expected lifespan of 75 years or less.

As these pipes all start to fail at the same time, there are going to be massive nationwide needs for pipe replacement. We’re already seeing a major need for replacement of pipes that were installed from the late 1800s to the 1950s, and the more recent pipes will be coming due soon as well. According to AWWA research and estimates, the cost of replacing and expanding this infrastructure could exceed $1 trillion spread out over a couple decades.

Obviously, this makes for a massive economic challenge on the national and local levels. A single home service line replacement could cost anywhere from $2,000 to $8,000, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On a national scale, the EPA estimates costs of $16 billion to $80 billion for this task alone. When you consider the budget shortfalls that exist in just about every area of public spending, it’s going to be extremely difficult to keep up with the need for infrastructural upgrades.

The longer we go without replacement, the more of a safety risk there is. Household fixtures might pick up more lead or copper due to corrosion sending these substances into the water. There could be major health crises similar to those seen in places like Flint, MI, but on a broader scale.

It will be interesting to watch how the government deals with this issue as it continues to unfold. Our water infrastructure needs upgrades, and the problem cannot wait much longer. Contact Royal Water Works, Inc. to learn more about our water treatment systems in Pisgah Forest, NC.

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