By Brent Dezember | Chairman, National Precast Concrete Association
If you live west of the Mississippi River, it’s a good bet that water is an issue from time to time in your community. Out here in Central California, water use is a daily debate among agricultural interests, city dwellers and business owners. In drought-ravaged states like California, and in other thirsty places such as Arizona, Nevada and Texas, the optimal use of every drop of water is becoming a bigger political issue with every election cycle, especially at the local level. In this environment, nobody likes to see water wasted.
But water problems are everywhere these days, not just in regions of the country where water is naturally scarce. The nation’s underground water infrastructure is exploding – literally – from old technology that needs to be replaced with today’s high quality, long-lasting, heavy-duty precast concrete and reinforced concrete pipe systems. Here are just a few examples from recent news reports. These examples are easy to find because they’re popping up every day in hundreds of news reports from throughout North America. Just Google “water main break” and see what I mean. We’re talking about hundreds of breaks every day, translating into two trillion-plus gallons of lost potable water annually and the electricity it took to purify it.
In Boston, a water main burst near one of the city’s reservoirs and sent a plume of water 80 feet into the air, creating an instant water fountain in the middle of a city street. Bay City, Michigan, called a water emergency while crews looked for a broken water main. Ten million gallons of water quickly dispersed while crews scoured the region looking for the break. A water main burst near the UCLA campus under Sunset Blvd. What was described as a “massive torrent” of 20 million gallons of water flooded campus areas, sports fields, a parking garage and the basketball arena, Pauley Pavilion, which had just undergone a $136 million renovation two years ago. It is estimated that it will take the city of Los Angeles $10 billion to $15 billion to get its water infrastructure in decent shape.
It’s happening everywhere – especially in large, aging cities where the water infrastructure was developed a century ago and has been patched on a piecemeal basis ever since. Many of our largest cities are in this same sinking boat.
It is particularly frustrating to see precious water resources going to waste because we haven’t yet found a way to deal with our failing infrastructure on a scale anywhere near the size of the problem. I have a lot of empathy for community leaders who are pulled in many directions and are asked to solve many unrelated, often intractable problems with severely limited resources. But water is the basis for life as we know it, and it is becoming ever more precious. We need to take care of it.
Solutions won’t likely come from Washington. Water is a local, state and regional issue anyway and needs to be dealt with on a local basis. That’s where you come in. Precasters can play an integral role in the solutions to water issues. By working on a local basis with the municipalities that are trying to update ancient water systems and meet EPA consent decrees by separating combined sewer-stormwater systems, precasters can help create ways to store stormwater until it can be treated, so that raw sewage doesn’t continue to pollute local waterways every time it rains hard.
If your company is one of the many precasters that makes water infrastructure products, you are one of the local experts. You can get involved in the discussion, if not for the benefit of your business, then for your community. As the proprietor of a manufacturing business, you use a lot of water, you need a lot of water and you may also manufacture water infrastructure elements that could be part of the solution. Make the connection. Perhaps you can provide that creative idea that solves a local water issue, saves taxpayers millions of dollars, preserves a precious resource and puts more precast in the ground.