Drinking Water Infrastructure Hamstrung With Antiquated Procurement Practices and Regulations That Inhibit Use of Materials & Increase Water Ratepayers Costs

(Part 1 of 5)


According to the American Society of Civil Engineers (@ASCETweets) 2017 Infrastructure Report Card, “Most Americans – just under 300 million people – receive their drinking water from one of the nation’s 51,356 community water systems. Of these, just 8,674 systems, or approximately 17%, serve close to 92% of the total population.”

But, many of the pipelines installed to convey safe, treated drinking water to communities throughout the U.S. were installed between the early 1930’s and 1970.  So, the lifespan of the pipelines has reached its end. 

According to Dr. Steven Folkman, Utah State University Buried Structure Laboratory, in his March 2018 report, Water Main Break Rates In the USA and Canada: A Comprehensive Study, 91% of the installed water mains utilize a combination of:

  • cast iron (CI) at 28%,
  • ductile iron (DI) at 28%,
  • polyvinyl chloride (PVC) pipe at 22%, and
  • asbestos cement (AC) at 13%.
  • The remaining 9% of pipes used are represented by polyethylene (HDPE), steel, molecularly oriented PVC (PVCO), concrete steel cylinder (CSC), and other materials.

Already we are witnessing an estimated 240,000 water main breaks annually throughout the U.S. according to the American Water Works Association (@AWWA). Each day an estimated 6 billion gallons of treated water is lost due to aging drinking water infrastructure. That’s between 14-18% of all treated drinking water in the U.S. that is lost each day – an amount that could support 15 million households, according to @ASCETweets. The amounts of lost treated drinking water is an enormous cost to private and public water utilities and their water ratepayers. In 2013 the Environmental Protection Agency (@EPA) estimated the cost of water loss control at $97 billion.

Including the challenges of controlling treated water losses, in their Drinking Water Needs Survey and Assessment published in March 2018, @EPA “shows a total 20-year capital improvement need of $472.6 billion” for U.S. drinking water infrastructure.

The enormity of the challenges with U.S. drinking water infrastructure has been known for some time.  However, it took the drinking water crisis in Flint Michigan in 2014 to elevate the crisis enough for a measured response. 

Congress has begun to address the drinking water infrastructure challenges in the U.S. by passing appropriations bills to fund drinking water financing programs implemented by @EPA.  But, Congress’ inability to pass appropriations bills on-time is a challenging factor in state and local procurement processes.

Questions continue to arise about antiquated procurement practices and a habituation factor at state and local levels. These challenges suggest taxpayer and ratepayer dollars may not be spent wisely because water systems procurement practices continue sole sourcing their materials based on old, biased, and outdated information.

Challenges to improved infrastructure and procurement practices are exacerbated by antiquated regulations that remain in place.  While these regulations do impede unethical procurement behaviors they also have an unintended negative consequence of not acknowledging new, innovative drinking water conveyance technologies nor encourage their use.  They also are likely contributors to project delays and increased costs to ratepayers. 

Next Up… Antiquated Procurement Practices

Tim Cansler