States Need to Listen to Engineers, Not Special Interests, About Water Infrastructure Projects

South Carolina’s legislature is currently debating a bill that would put serious limitations on how engineers, public utilities and other professionals design water, wastewater and storm water drainage projects.

Water infrastructure is critical to the health and safety of our communities. Water and wastewater systems, if not properly installed and maintained, can wreak havoc. Things can be much worse if improper materials are used to build them. If anyone has been led to believe that any material can do the job, then they have been perhaps influenced by special interests seeking market advantage. That is a shame. And a potential threat to public health and safety as well as the economic vitality of local communities who may have to replace weaker materials after only short term service.

The legislation that is pending is very concerning.  South Carolina isn’t alone in traveling this path; similar bills have been introduced but rejected in states such as Arizona, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Virginia. In all, the legislation has been introduced in eleven states and none have accepted it. None.

The reasons against such legislation are plentiful, not the least of which is that it is a top-down, burdensome regulation that will make it more expensive and more difficult for communities to provide clean and safe water delivery from treatment plants to homes.

The fact is, all pipe materials aren’t the same, and the differences between them can be striking. Professional engineers and officials who run public utilities cannot be hamstrung when they’re selecting the materials that will run underneath streets and homes. Engineers and others who are involved in the day-to-day decisions surrounding buried infrastructure intimately know the factors and criteria necessary to select the proper pipe materials for their areas.

This is not the first time that South Carolina has considered going down this path.  Hopefully, South Carolina will take the same approach as it and many other states have done in previous years: throw it out and make clear that special interests cannot force states into engineering decisions that could have costly consequences for its citizens.

IoT Journal: Big Data, IoT Poised to Address Water Infrastructure Gap

Cutting-edge, smart water solutions are gaining traction with municipal water utilities, which see data and analytics as critical tools for overcoming the age-old issue of crumbling water infrastructure. Over $20 billion is slated for metering, data management, and analytics from 2016 to 2025, globally, according to Bluefield Research.

At the root of this change is the mounting financial pressure that is forcing water utilities and municipalities to do more with less. This has sparked an uptick in demand for innovative solutions to more cost-effectively manage billing and customer management, leakage rates, and energy consumption.

Read more.

Replacing Water Pipes Is As Important As Fixing Roads & Bridges

A much-needed $685 billion investment in the nation’s infrastructure must be managed wisely so that communities “struggling to provide safe and reliable basic water services” can turn things around, according to EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy in her remarks made at the American Water Summit on December 7th. Last week, the EPA released its Drinking Water Action Plan that makes a case for “addressing water needs, but urged the conference of business leaders to explain the financial opportunity in such investments,” according to a Politico Pro report. From McCarthy’s remarks, as prepared for delivery:

“We’ve known for years that our nation’s investments in water infrastructure aren’t keeping up. We need to invest more. We need to make the infrastructure dollars we have work smarter and harder.

Going forward, there’s broad agreement that infrastructure investment is a top national priority. We need to make sure water infrastructure is at the center of that effort.”

Unlike roads and bridges that are in everyday view, buried pipes tend to be forgotten until one bursts. But replacing aging water systems is no less important than our transportation infrastructure. A point that McCarthy made clearly. From the PoliticoPro report:

“I do think there is a broad agreement that infrastructure investment is a top priority, not just this administration, but the incoming administration. So let’s work together to make sure that infrastructure for water is at the center of that effort.”

Municipalities are grappling with the high costs of fixing aging infrastructure, and the best approach for replacing aging pipes. But there are serious questions being raised about how much of the PVC pipe being used in the U.S. is manufactured in China. The EPA is among a number of organizations to warn about the potential hazards associated with PVC pipe, noting in its Toxic Release Inventory that “[t]housands of pounds of carcinogens such as benzene and vinyl chloride are released from the facilities” near Mossville, LA, each year.

Compared with Ductile Iron Pipe, PVC has a short service life, averaging just 50 years compared with Ductile Iron Pipe at 100 years. The stakes for our communities are so high, and the need is so great to use infrastructure dollars wisely, that we can ill afford to use materials that aren’t long-lasting and safe.


Long-Lasting Iron Pipe Worth the Investment

When water lines break, it creates not just headaches for municipal officials, homeowners, and businesses, headline writers spit out punchy headlines and news photographers grab eye-catching shots. A recent pipe burst in a Los Angeles neighborhood got the headline “pipe rupture sends water gushing.” Another article on the city’s overall infrastructure problems is accompanied by dramatic photos of geyers and massive amounts of water being broomed away from a building.

What’s missing in that drama, though, is the actual durability of these iron pipes. An article from the Los Angeles Times detailing the metropolis’ $1 billion infrastructure problem notes that “[a]bout one-fifth of the city’s water pipes were installed before 1931 and nearly all will reach the end of their useful lives in the next 15 years.” Thousands of miles of pipes were also laid just after World War II in the post-war construction boom as the city began its tremendous years of growth.

It was smart thinking then by engineers and city decision-makers to install iron pipe. The amounts of water used daily by the millions of residents, businesses, factories, and schools have put enormous strain on the system. Plastic PVC pipe, which fails relatively quickly under less stress, is not a suitable alternative when pipes need to function at such high levels over such longs periods of time.

Cities across the country are grappling with the same problem as Los Angeles. Ductile Iron Pipe is a solid workhorse for infrastructure projects and will give municipalities peace of mind that it will last a long time. It’s a worthwhile investment that will help stimulate growth into the next century.

Lead Tests On New York City Schools’ Water May Have Masked Scope Of Risk

When the results of tests for lead in the water at more than 1,500 New York City school buildings were announced in July, officials said that fewer than 1 percent of all the samples taken showed lead concentrations that exceeded Environmental Protection Agency guidelines. Given other safety measures in place, officials assured parents, the water was safe to drink.

But a review of how the testing was conducted suggests that the amount of lead in the water that students consume could be greater than the results indicate.

According to the city, every water outlet in each school was turned on fully for two hours the night before the samples were taken – a practice known as pre-stagnation flushing that cleans most soluble lead and lead particles from pipes and thus reduces lead levels temporarily.

In February, the E.P.A. recommended against the use of pre-stagnation flushing when sampling water in homes, saying that the step “may potentially lower the lead levels as compared to when it is not practiced.”

Because the E.P.A. does not regulate the testing of water in schools, its guidance on pre-stagnation flushing does not apply directly to New York’s procedures. But the agency’s voluntary guidelines for schools do not recommend such flushing and generally direct schools to mimic normal consumption patterns when taking samples.

To read the full article, click here.

N.J. Has Among Highest Risks For Lead-Contaminated Water in U.S., Study Says

A new U.S. Geological Survey assessment of more than 20,000 wells nationwide shows that untreated groundwater in 25 states – including New Jersey – had a potentially high risk of lead contamination.

The states with the largest percentage of wells with a high prevalence of being potentially corrosive are located primarily in the Northeast, the Southeast and the Northwest, according to a release from the USGS.

Two indicators of potential corrosivity were combined to determine that corrosive groundwater occurs in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Corrosive groundwater, if untreated, can dissolve lead and other metals from pipes and plumbing fixtures, according to the release.

“The corrosivity of untreated groundwater is only one of several factors that may affect the quality of household drinking water at the tap,” Don Cline, USGS associate director for water, said in the release. “Nevertheless, it is an essential factor that should be carefully considered in testing for water quality in both public and private supplies nationwide.”

To read the full article, click here.

America’s Water Supply: The Corrosion Of A Proud Tradition

The debacle in Flint, Michigan was a betrayal of the public trust at every level of government. The horror of people drinking poisoned water is a microcosm of the sad deterioration of one of America’s greatest accomplishments: the creation of infrastructure to provide virtually universal access to clean water and wastewater treatment.

Across America, water and sewer plants, pipes, and valves are reaching or beyond the end of their useful lives. By failing to invest in maintaining the city’s drinking water infrastructure, Flint officials acted no differently than those in thousands of other communities — high- and low-income — who are neglecting the promise of government that all residents have the right to clean water.

In early twentieth century America, it was not safe to drink water from public taps. Cities routinely dumped raw sewage into nearby rivers, thus causing their downstream neighbors to suffer epidemics of waterborne diseases, such as cholera, dysentery, and typhoid. This practice finally ended after Congress passed the 1972 Clean Water Act, which underwrote the costs of municipal water treatment plants.

In the 1980s, Congress’s taste for funding the construction costs waned, and it created a revolving funds program, which provided low-interest loans to states and cities. That worked pretty well for a while. But, in subsequent decades, spending on water and wastewater infrastructure plummeted.   In the aftermath of the Great Recession, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (Mr. Obama’s stimulus program) devoted only $6 billion out of $800 billion to our water systems. That’s not chump change but the scale of the problem is immense.

Our water infrastructure consists of approximately 54,000 drinking water systems, with more than 700,000 miles of pipes, and 17,000 wastewater treatment plants, with an additional 800,000 miles of pipes. A 2012 report of the American Water Works Association concluded that more than a million miles of these pipes need repair or replacement. That’s why communities across the nation suffer 240,000 water main breaks per year. The major cause of pipe failure is age.

To read the full article, click here.

Map: U.S. Coal Fire Plants Ranked By Water Pollution

Nearly a year ago, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency finalized its Steam Electric Power Generating Effluent Guidelines. The new rules set the first federal limits on the amount of toxic metals – including arsenic, lead, mercury, and selenium – that can be discharged in wastewater from power plants, which are some of the biggest industrial water polluters in the country.  Almost 100 public drinking water intakes and more than 1,500 public wells in the United States are located near discharges from power plants, according to the EPA. The agency says the substances covered by its guidelines can contaminate fish and drinking water supplies, in some cases leading to cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, kidney and liver damage, and reduced IQs in children. When the rules are fully implemented, between 2018 and 2023, they will cut pollution released into waterways by an estimated 635,000 metric tons (1.4 billion pounds) each year.

While the guidelines apply to all steam electric power plants, including nuclear and natural gas plants, a report released this month by the Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project focused on the amount of pollution currently discharged by coal-fired power plants. The report analyzed data from 216 coal plants contained in the EPA’s 2015 Toxics Release Inventory and identified those that are releasing the most arsenic, lead, and mercury into waterways. The rankings, shown in the map above, are relative to the other plants that were analyzed and do not indicate that the power stations were in violation of their environmental permits.

To read the full article, click  here.

Flint’s Water Crisis And The “Troublemaker” Scientist

Near the railroad tracks on the outskirts of Flint, Mich., there is an old pump house, the walls of which have long served as a kind of communal billboard. The Block, people call it. People paint messages there – birthday wishes, memorials for the dead. In January, after Gov. Rick Snyder declared a state of emergency in response to Flint’s water crisis, a new message appeared, addressed implicitly to Snyder but also to the world: YOU WANT OUR TRUST??? WE WANT VA TECH!!! In the history of political graffiti, “We want Va. Tech” may sound like one of the least stirring demands ever spray- ­painted on a wall, but in the context of Flint, it was charged with the emotion and meaning of a rallying cry.

By “Va. Tech,” the message’s author meant a Virginia Tech professor of civil and environmental engineering, Marc Edwards. Edwards has spent most of his career studying the aging waterworks of America, publishing the sort of papers that specialists admire and the rest of us ignore, on subjects like “ozone- ­induced particle destabilization” or the “role of temperature and pH in Cu(OH)â‚‚ solubility.” Explaining his research to laypeople, he sometimes describes it as “the C.S.I. of plumbing.” Edwards is a detective with a research lab and a Ph.D. In 2000, after homeowners in suburban Maryland began reporting “pinhole leaks” in their copper pipes, the water authority there brought in Edwards. In 2002, after receiving a report that water in a Maui neighborhood had mysteriously turned blue and was giving people rashes, Edwards took on the case.

Until last year, the most famous case Edwards investigated was the lead contamination of the water supply in the nation’s capital – still the worst such event in modern American history, in magnitude and duration. In Washington, lead levels shot up in 2001, and in some neighborhoods they remained dangerously elevated until 2010. Edwards maintains, and spent years working to prove, that scientific misconduct at the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention exacerbated the D.C. crisis. A congressional investigation culminated in a 2010 report, titled “A Public Health Tragedy: How Flawed C.D.C. Data and Faulty Assumptions Endangered Children’s Health in the Nation’s Capital.” It confirmed many of his allegations, but the experience was for Edwards a decade- ­long ordeal that turned him into a reluctant activist – or as he prefers to say, “a troublemaker.”

For television appearances, Edwards will put on a suit and tie, and the tie almost always bears a picture of some endangered animal: a giant panda, for instance, or a water buffalo. But on the morning we met, in his lab at Virginia Tech, he was dressed in a black track suit and a pair of running shoes – the uniform he prefers. At 52, he has the youthful yet slightly skeletal good looks of an avid long- ­distance runner, which he is. “Before Flint, I was running 50 miles a week,” he told me. “Now I’m down to 27.” Running keeps him sane, he says, or at least saner than he would be otherwise. More than once during his investigations into D.C. and Flint, he wondered if he might be losing his mind.

To read the full article, click here.

This Town Is Sick of Drinking Polluted Water

In Alabama’s Black Belt, a region where the vestiges of slavery still manifest in chronic poverty and crumbling infrastructure, a more recent legacy of mining and industry is haunting the land through poisoned waterways and toxic soil.

Yet the region has long been the rural core of civil-rights struggles, and along the Black Belt, local citizens are trying to revive a legacy of activism as they struggle to restore their environment.

In Uniontown–in Perry County, one of the state’s poorest–residents say they have been systematically denied the basic dignity of decent sanitation–what activists see as the residue of institutionalized racism.

With fewer than 1,800 people, 90 percent of whom are black, Uniontown is saddled with a deteriorating, mismanaged wastewater treatment system, and a government that residents say has proven indifferent to the resulting toxic threat.

Local wastewater is supposed to be treated through a method known as sprayfields, which channel effluent waste into fields to be dispersed and percolated into soil. But environmentalists complain the sprayfield system has become a toxic cesspool, and a newly constructed one has been botched.

To read the full article, click here.