Thursday, October 30, 2014

Water Main Leaks Add Up To Trillions of Gallons of Lost Water

In Chicago, fresh water is drawn into water intake cribs in Lake Michigan and piped to the enormous Jardine Water Filtration Plant on the lakefront, adjacent to Navy Pier.
Jardine is the largest water filtration plant in the world by volume, pumping about 1 billion gallons of purified drinking water out through hundreds of thousands of miles of pipes to 5 million people in Chicago and 125 surrounding communities.
But not all of that treated, potable water makes it through the system to homes and businesses. In fact, quite a bit of it is lost.
The Chicago-based Center for Neighborhood Technology, a nonprofit focused on sustainability, recently put out a report that estimates "about 6 billion gallons of water per daymay be wasted in the U.S.," says Danielle Gallet, the group's water supply program manager.
Where does it go? Much of it just leaks out of aging pipes and water mains that crack and break.
"We do have a crumbling infrastructure issue," Gallet says. "It is old."...
A recent study by Gallet's group and the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning found the Chicago area alone is losing 22 billion gallons of treated water per year through leaky pipes.
"We figured that that could fill the residential needs of about 700,000 people in a year," says Tim Loftus, water resource planner for the agency.
"That's a big city," he says. "That's a year's worth of residential water use."
Nationwide, the amount of water that is lost each year is estimated to top 2 trillion gallons, according to the American Water Works Association. That's about 14 to 18 percent (or one-sixth) of the water the nation treats.
And it's not just water that's going down the drain, but billions of dollars in revenue too because utilities can't charge customers for water that is lost before it gets to them.
But fixing the nation's water systems isn't going to be cheap.
"Our estimates are that this is a trillion-dollar program," says David LaFrance, CEO of the American Water Works Association. "About half of that trillion dollars will be to replace existing infrastructure. The other half will be putting into the ground new infrastructure to serve population growth and areas that currently aren't receiving water."
Of course, there are some jackasses who think talk of spending money on infrastructure is just a government-driven scam to waste money:
But some government spending watchdogs are skeptical.
"Anytime somebody tells me that we have to spend more money, I'm going to look at who is telling me that and do they have an interest in it," says Steve Ellis of the Washington-based group Taxpayers for Common Sense.
He says water utilities stand to gain from massive water infrastructure spending, as does the American Society of Civil Engineers, which gives the nation's water infrastructure a barely passing grade of "D."
Ellis says that doesn't mean big spending on water infrastructure isn't needed. Voters just need to make sure there's proper oversight, as well as investments in better technologies and conservation.
I would say that having a water system that leaks about 15% of the water produced would qualify as infrastructure in need of spending.  Imagine if 15% of the gas you put in the gas tank leaked out before it could be combusted.  That would be a major loss.  Same with these water systems.  It would take a carefully-crafted scheme to manage to spend a bunch of money repairing major city water systems and be wasting money.  I'd suppose that water leaks probably follow the 80/20 rule, and repairing a few would go a long way toward cutting losses.

Overall, though, we are screwed on infrastructure spending.  As this quote from the story says:
"The infrastructure and the massive investment that our grandparents, great-grandparents, some of us our great-great-grandparents put in, is coming to the end of its useful life, and the bill has come due on our watch," Gallet says.
Not only that, we cut taxes and increased deficits while blowing trillions on live and proxy wars we lost, ridiculously expensive health care (compared to any other developed country) and terribly planned development of suburbs while leaving our central cities to rot.  We will spend trillions in the future futilely attempting to maintain our standard-of-living, but we will be left with a decrepit infrastructure system that is a net money loser.  Our days of reaping bountiful returns from infrastructure investment are probably in the past.  Now those investments will be a further tax to pay for our lack of planning in the post-war period, and our lack of investment since the late '70s.  Basic systems, such as water, sewer, electric and transportation networks will slowly crumble.  Enjoy.

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