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Aging City Pipes in Need of a Plumber’s Touch

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Drip, drip, drip… according to a recent op-ed in the New York Times, underground pipes in the U.S. leak about one in six gallons of clean, filtered water – wasting a precious resource and a lot of energy. What are cities across the country doing to address this and other water infrastructure problems?

Last week on Science Friday, Flora Lichtman spoke with water experts about the challenges of maintaining critical infrastructure in the country’s biggest cities. George Hawkins, General Manager of D.C. Water, and Martin Melosi, History Professor and author of “Precious Commodity: Providing Water for America’s Cities” joined Lichtman for a half hour conversation all about our favorite topic: water.

Hawkins emphasized the importance of a clean water supply, “Every life relies on what we [water providers] do, and yet most people don’t think about it very much, where the water comes from when they turn on the spigot or where it goes once it goes down the drain. But the systems out there in every city, and not just cities but all across the country… are massive, and they're complicated, and they're complex and they're evolving.” According to the US EPA about half of one percent of our nation’s wastewater infrastructure is replaced in a given year. At that rate, it would take 300 years to replace our country’s water infrastructure, which is already very old. Although these systems have served cities well for over 70 years, the maintenance bill is finally coming due.

Melosi and Hawkins suggest several ways to address these challenges, from individual water conservation, to increased spending on maintenance to new “green” solutions to improving water quality. Not surprisingly, Philadelphia came up twice in the interview – once in a discussion of the first water delivery system developed in the US and modeled all over the country, and again for its groundbreaking plan to manage stormwater through primarily green stormwater infrastructure. systems.

To read the New York Times op-ed or listen to Science Friday, check the links below:

“Don’t Waste the Drought” Charles Fishman, New York Times, August 16, 2012

“Aging City Pipes in Need of a Plumber’s Touch, Science Friday, NPR, August 17, 2012