Hamilton Kent Blog

Is America’s clean drinking water in decline?

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Bottled water is on its way towards outselling soda this year for the first time ever. But the reason for it isn’t only due to more health conscious Americans.

The reason might not be quite so surface level. That is—it could be buried underground.

Some researchers are suggesting that the switch towards bottled water may also be a switch away from tap water—meaning that Americans are growing weary of crumbling drinking water infrastructure.

Here are some fast facts about the state of repair of America’s drinking water infrastructure:

What’s the state of drinking water infrastructure in the U.S.?

Water pipes generally last between 50 to 150 years, depending upon when they were installed. Pipes installed in the 1800s are thicker than pipes installed in the post-1945 era, meaning that more recently installed pipes will actually start to fail around the same time as pipes installed much earlier.

This time, unfortunately, is now—and will continue over the next few decades due to age, corrosion, design and installation.

In fact, in 1980, 68 percent of water pipes were in excellent condition, according to one study.Twenty years later in 2000, that number fell to 42 percent.

One EPA report estimates that there are more than 1,000,000 miles of water main pipe in the U.S. One mile of pipe services 264 people, with more than 54,000 community water systems facing the cost of repair and pipe replacement.

How many water main breaks happen each year?

In the United States, there are at least 240,000 water main breaks each year according to the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE)—which comes down to around 700 per day. The Water Main Break Clock keeps a log of the daily number, as well as the repair costs needed based on these statistics.

What do leakages mean?

It’s difficult to measure the extent of drinking water leakages in the United States due to there being no country-wide regulations on conducting water audits. It is estimated, however, that leaking pipes waste 1.7 trillion gallons of water each year.

Therefore, water that has been treated and transported from the main pipe to the customer is being lost, along with the energy and costs involved in treating it in the first place.

Why do breaks happen?

- Corrosion—from material or corrosive soil

- Material defects during the manufacturing process

- Cold weather causing material to expand and contract, as well as the ground to shift around the pipes

- With cast-iron, joints can be at higher risk of corrosion—something that can be avoided with watertight solutions.

- Wall thickness—from the 1800s to the 1960s, pipe walls were increasingly manufactured with thinner walls, that generally have shorter lifespans

The cost of replacements and repairs

Right now, the U.S. spends between $800 million and $1 billion on its water systems each year. In 2012, the American Water Works Association estimated that it will cost more than $1 trillion over 25 years to repair and replace water mains and other underground infrastructure.

Starting these repairs and completing them over time means that not all of these costs will be incurred at the same time, so funding is at least more realistic. But it also means that the condition of our water systems will not drastically improve for many years to come.
For information on how to stop leaks, and on a variety of watertight solutions, please feel free to contact one of our reps here.