Water Main Breaks, Leaky Pipes Wreaking Havoc in Cities Across the U.S.

Aging water infrastructure is a growing problem in cities all over the country.

In Tampa, water main breaks and leaky pipes have created huge problems in recent months. The city averages eight pipeline breaks per day, according to local officials. In August, two large water mains in the city broke in one week, resulting in a traffic nightmare, thousands of people without access to water, and a repair bill estimated around $30 million. The Tampa Water Department said the dual breakages were unrelated, but were caused by the same thing: old valves closing near both locations caused the water to suddenly back up, increasing the pressure inside the pipes and causing the pipes to rupture. The underlying problem is the city’s aging infrastructure; one of the burst pipes was 60 years old and the other 50. A Water Department spokesman said it is two years into a five-year plan to replace pipes all over the city, but neither of the two recently ruptured pipes were on the schedule, “showing how unpredictable and expensive it can be to take care of an aging water system,” according to the official.

In Denver, much of the city’s 3,000 miles of water mains, pipes and other water infrastructure is more than 100 years old. There have been more than 240 breaks in the system every year for the last 20 years, some of them wreaking havoc on traffic and causing major disruptions of businesses and damaging property. According to a recent report in the Denver Post, the oldest water main in the city was built in 1881. In August, a ruptured water main outside Coors Field left restrooms and concession stands inoperable and forced the cancellation of a Colorado Rockies game. Less than a week later, another pipe burst, flooding a major boulevard and closing several lanes of the heavily used roadway.

Aging infrastructure was also blamed for two recent water main breaks in Phoenix. City officials said the majority of breaks are happening in pipes that were installed more than 80 years ago. “In the City of Phoenix, it’s because of the older pipes,” the official said. “Earlier in the summer, we had five breaks in one week and most of the breaks were from pipes that were installed in the 1930s.”

And Atlanta, whose water system was designed in 1875, has seen increasingly frequent flooding from water main breaks and ruptured pipes in recent months. Water officials estimate that more then 10 percent of Atlanta’s 1,600 miles of pipe need to be repaired or replaced in the next five years.

Other large cities, as well as suburbs and small towns all over the U.S., are experiencing the same problems from old and decrepit water mains and pipes. The cost to businesses and disrupted personal lives is incalculable. That’s why a top priority of CWC staff is to push for more funds for repair and replacement of aging water infrastructure. We’re working hard every day to persuade legislators that it needs to be a priority for Congress as well.

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About Clean Water Council

The Clean Water Council (CWC) is a group of national organizations representing underground construction contractors design professionals, manufacturers and suppliers, labor unions and other committed to ensuring a high quality of life through sound environmental infrastructure. Working in concert, CWC's 39 national organizations, advocate federal legislation and policies that will promote clean water and improve the nation's failing infrastructure.​
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